2019 Oscar Nominations: My Predictions


Here are my predictions for the Oscar nominations that will be announced tomorrow morning. (As always, I didn’t attempt to guess at the three short film categories since I never really know anything about them until after the nominations come out.) Certain categories were particularly difficult for me to decide on, like Best Director, Best Hair & Makeup and the Best Sound Editing/Mixing awards, but I’ve done my best to read the minds of a voting group that is gradually expanding and diversifying.

(P.S. Many pundits anticipate that Ethan Hawke will receive a Best Actor nomination for First Reformed. I would love for that to happen, but Paul Schrader’s drama was ignored by SAG, the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, so ultimately I don’t envision Hawke for the final five among lead actors. If he is nominated, though, I will be just as pleased as everyone else who has seen his remarkable work in the film, knowing that he deserves the acclaim.)

Best Picture: BlacKkKlansman; Black Panther; Bohemian Rhapsody; The Favourite; First Man; Green Book; If Beale Street Could Talk; Roma; A Star Is Born; Vice

Best Director: Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born); Alfonso Cuarón (Roma); Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite); Spike Lee (BlackKklansman); Adam McKay (Vice)

Best Actress: Yalitza Aparicio (Roma); Glenn Close (The Wife); Olivia Colman (The Favourite); Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born); Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Best Actor: Christian Bale (Vice); Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody); Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born); Viggo Mortensen (Green Book); John David Washington (BlackKklansman)

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams (Vice); Claire Foy (First Man); Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk); Emma Stone (The Favourite); Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Green Book); Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy); Adam Driver (BlackKklansman); Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born); Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Best Adapted Screenplay: BlackKklansman; Black Panther; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; If Beale Street Could Talk; Leave No Trace

Best Original Screenplay: The Favourite; First Reformed; Green Book; Roma; Vice

Best Cinematography: Cold War; The Favourite; First Man; Roma; A Star Is Born

Best Editing: Black Panther; First Man; Roma; A Star Is Born; Vice

Best Production Design: Black Panther; The Favourite; First Man; Mary Poppins Returns; Roma

Best Costume Design: Black Panther; Bohemian Rhapsody; The Favourite; Mary Poppins Returns; Mary Queen of Scots

Best Hair & Makeup: Border; Mary Queen of Scots; Vice

Best Sound Editing: Black Panther; Bohemian Rhapsody; First Man; A Quiet Place; A Star Is Born

Best Sound Mixing: Bohemian Rhapsody; First Man; A Quiet Place; Roma; A Star Is Born

Best Visual Effects: Avengers: Infinity War; Black Panther; First Man; Ready Player One; Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Original Score: BlackKklansman; First Man; If Beale Street Could Talk; Isle of Dogs; Mary Poppins Returns

Best Original Song: “All the Stars” (Black Panther); “Girl in the Movies” (Dumplin’); “The Place Where Lost Things Go” (Mary Poppins Returns); “I’ll Fight” (RBG); “Shallow” (A Star Is Born)

Best Foreign Language Film: Burning; Capernaum; Cold War; Roma; Shoplifters

Best Animated Feature: Incredibles 2; Isle of Dogs; Mirai; Ralph Breaks the Internet; Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Documentary: Free Solo; Minding the Gap; Of Fathers and Sons; RBG; Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: January 2019


Director/screenwriter Melissa B. Miller-Costanzo (center) with actors Brendan Meyer (l.) and Sam McCarthy (r.) on the set of All These Small Moments, 2017. (Photo: Katie Leary, Filmmaker Magazine)

Here are sixteen new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this January, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

(Apologies, by the way, for missing out on doing these posts in November and December 2018! I was overworked, and therefore missed out on informing you all of such films as All the Creatures Were Stirring, Anna and the Apocalypse, Becoming Astrid, Between Worlds, Bird Box, Capernaum, Clara’s Ghost, Destroyer, Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes, Dumplin’, Happy as Lazzaro, Jinn, Lez Bomb, The Long Dumb Road, Mary Queen of Scots, Narcissister Organ Player, The New Romantic, On the Basis of Sex, The Party’s Just Beginning, Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, Searching for Ingmar Bergman, That Way Madness Lies, United Skates, Unlovable and Write When You Get Work.)


JANUARY 1 (VOD), JANUARY 4 (in theaters): State Like Sleep (dir. Meredith Danluck)Variety’s Tribeca Film Festival review by Nick Schager: “The aftershocks of trauma can take many forms, as Katherine (Katherine Waterston) learns following the death of her famous husband in State Like Sleep, writer-director Meredith Danluck’s unsettling first feature. Aided by Christopher Blauvelt’s sumptuous cinematography, this consistently surprising film slinks along with melancholic dreaminess, matching the fugue state that plagues its grief-stricken protagonist. With Michael Shannon and Luke Evans also upending expectations in supporting roles, it’s a confident debut that should reap considerable attention from distributors, and opportunities for Danluck, following its premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

“‘Without stories, the truth is too random,’ opines Belgian actor Stefan (Michiel Huisman) during a TV interview at the start of State Like Sleep. Though the thespian comes off as full of himself (and also something decidedly odorous), it’s an insight that defines Danluck’s tale. Via eerie shots through Stefan and wife Katherine’s messy Brussels flat, as well as oblique glimpses of a gunshot and blood pooling around Stefan’s head, the subsequent drama is set in motion. Before audiences can settle in, however, the film leaps forward a year in time, to find Katherine — a photographer who has since abandoned her home — receiving news that her mother (Mary Kay Place) is in Brussels, and in the hospital. Thus, Katherine’s long-delayed return trip to the scene of the crime begins.

“With a look of perpetual misery plastered across her face, Katherine is soon dealing with not only her mother’s fragile brain-related condition, but also her nasty mother-in-law Anneke (Julie Khaner), who resents Katherine for stealing away the affections of her beloved boy. Back in the residence she fled, Katherine is compelled to confront the marital messiness that immediately preceded Stefan’s death, including a tabloid scandal involving leaked pictures of him with a mysterious woman. Wracked by questions about Stefan’s fidelity, as well as whether foul play was to blame for his demise, Katherine transforms herself into an amateur sleuth, trawling the darker corners of Brussels — and her memory — to solve what she suspects may be a whodunit.

“That endeavor leads Katherine to an underground nightclub run by Emile (Evans), a live-wire who was Stefan’s best friend since childhood (unbeknownst to Katherine), and who attempts to bed her by tricking her into snorting heroin. While eying Emile as a potential suspect, she strikes up an unlikely rapport with Edward (Shannon), a hotel neighbor who first introduces himself by drunkenly trying to enter her room. In Rear Window fashion, Katherine uses her camera to watch Edward through their adjacent windows. Yet despite a guilelessness that verges on bluntness, Edward is anything but a Raymond Burr-ish villain. Before long, their shared feelings of dislocation and longing — for connection, understanding, and relief from their loneliness — draws them into a tentative romance.

“Using Waterston’s changing hairstyle as a way to identify where different scenes fit in the film’s chronology, Danluck cross-cuts between past and present with stream-of-consciousness fluidity, creating a hypnotic mood in harmony with her hazy metropolitan milieu and Katherine’s dazed-and-confused headspace. To that end, State Like Sleep is bolstered by Jeff Wingo and David Mcilwain’s piano-and-electronica score, and moreover, by DP Blauvelt’s rapturous work. His woozy imagery is awash in reflections and light flares, filtered through streaky windows and translucent barriers, and marked by unexpected compositions that lend the action a striking, disorienting edginess.

“Waterston embodies Katherine as a lost soul consumed by delusional sorrow, and around the edges of her morose expressions, one can spy the woman’s marrow-deep desperation. Just as assured are Evans and Shannon, both of whom initially come across as neo-noir archetypes — the volatile underworld scumbag and the charming but untrustworthy stranger, respectively — and then skillfully develop surprising angles to their characters. Seething with irrepressible resentment, Khaner steals every scene she’s in, including a climax that plays like a startling slap to a slumbering face.”


JANUARY 4 (streaming on Netflix): And Breathe Normally (dir. Isold Uggadottir) (DP: Ita Zbroniec-Zajt)Variety’s Sundance Film Festival review by Alissa Simon: “A struggling Icelandic single mother forms an unlikely bond with a female asylum seeker from Guinea-Bissau in the impressively acted social-realist drama And Breathe Normally from debuting helmer-writer Ísold Uggadóttir. Reminiscent of the work of Ken Loach or the Dardenne brothers, it unfolds amid grim, desolate-looking landscapes that supply the antithesis of Iceland’s tourist brochures. Although some might find the twists and turns of the narrative to occasionally defy credibility, others will be swept along with the gripping human dilemmas of the main characters. Further festival action is a given, especially since it includes zeitgeist topics such as poverty, refugees and LGBT issues.

“Tough, tattooed Lara (Kristín Thóra Haraldsdóttir) strives to stay a few steps ahead of the debt collector yet still provide cute and uncomplaining kindergartner son Eldar (Patrik Nökkvi Pétursson) with the occasional treat, such as rescue cat Músi. She’s not one to accept the kindness of strangers; when someone else in the grocery line offers to cover the toilet paper she can’t pay for, she just pushes the item out of her pile.

“Director-writer Uggadóttir keeps viewers on their toes by subtly providing clues to Lara’s chariness, rather than spelling things out. We learn that her mother lives in Norway, she has not always had custody of her son, that a problem with drugs lies in the past and may resurface and that she has the occasional tryst with the mother of her son’s best friend.

“A lifeline for Lara’s financial situation seems to materialize when the border security forces at Keflavík, Iceland’s main airport, offer her a position as a trainee. And it’s there she first crosses paths with Adja (Babetida Sadjo), who is in transit to Canada on a fake French passport. After Lara flags the passport to her trainer, Adja winds up stranded in Iceland, first with a short prison term, then stuck in a run-down refugee center at the rough edges of the Reykjanes peninsula while the government considers her request for asylum.

“Meanwhile, money isn’t coming in fast enough for Lara, who, hounded by her landlord, puts her few belongings in storage and convinces Eldar that they are going on a secret adventure that involves sleeping in the car. Although Iceland would certainly provide support for housing and basic needs for a single mother like Lara, her unwillingness to seek or accept formal help leads her to make some unwise decisions. In a scene that hits hard with its straightforward simplicity, Uggadóttir shows mother and son satiating their hunger with chicken kebabs from a grocery store demonstration, reinforcing her message that not all of the needy are willing or able to partake of government services.

“When the paths of Lara and Adja cross again, it’s Adja who provides surprising succor, sneaking the mother and son into the refugee center so that they have a place to wash and a bed to sleep in. While this plot point might strain plausibility for some, ‘This American Life’ just reported on the unbelievable chaos and confusion at one small refugee court in Laredo, Texas, so who knows how carefully monitored Iceland’s isolated refugee housing really is.

“Just as one starts to predict what the ultimate arc of the screenplay will be, Uggadóttir, a Columbia University MFA graduate known for her prize-winning shorts, throws in a few twists, showing that Adja and Lara have more in common than they would have guessed. What might, in other hands, be melodramatic or emotionally manipulative remains resolutely unsentimental here.

“In what is essentially a three-hander, Guinea-born Belgian actress Sadjo impresses with her dignity and warmth. Meanwhile, petite Haraldsdóttir displays such patience and love for her son that she keeps viewers rooting for her to overcome her obstacles despite her occasional bad judgment. And young Pétursson is a delight as the least whiny child ever.

“Polish lenser Ita Zbroniec-Zaj, who has done excellent work for Scandinavian helmers such as Måns Månsson, Hanna Sköld and Goran Kapetanovic, provides the standout tech credit here. The turbulent autumn weather and rugged landscapes of Iceland practically become another character. She also visually reinforces the leitmotif of being trapped with images such as the cats at the rescue shelter and stowaways at the harbor, as well as plays of light and shadow throughout. The melancholy score by Gísli Galdur also makes a strong impression.”


JANUARY 4: Communion (dir. Anna Zamecka) (DP: Malgorzata Szylak)Reverse Shot essay by Caroline Madden:Communion opens with a medium shot of a young man’s laborious struggle to put his belt through the loop of his pants. ‘Wrong, wrong, wrong,’ Nikodem (Nikodem Kaczanowski) says, chastising himself as he twists it backwards and fumbles with its clasp. Writer and director Anna Zamecka lingers on Nikodem’s strain to the point of discomfort, visually embodying the simmering pain and frustrations that embroil him and his family. Shot in Poland for 35 days over the course of a year, Zamecka’s debut feature unfolds in a measured and unvarnished style that reflects her anthropologist’s eye. She originally wanted to make a short fiction film based on her childhood—’It had to be fiction,’ Zamecka explains, ‘because I didn’t know how to begin to look for real people that had this similar situation’—but after serendipitously meeting the Kacanowski family she decided to document their lives instead. Communion concerns the devastating and ironic contradictions of 14-year-old girl Ola (Ola Kacanowski) tasked with nursing her autistic younger brother, Nikodem, and alcoholic father, Marek (Marek Kacanowski). Nikodem’s impending communion ceremony serves as the narrative fulcrum, an event that Ola hopes will reunite her with her absent mother, Magda (Magda Kacanowski).

“Ola occupies the vacancy left by Magda, tending to Nikodem and Marek with a resolute and tenacious spirit. She reminds her father not to drink, cooks his meals, cleans the home, keeps his appointments, and assists him in writing a letter to their landlord. But it is her relationship with the obstreperous Nikodem that puts her fortitude to the test. The simplest tasks—tying his shoes, giving him a bath, or quizzing him on Scripture—are made all the more difficult by his disability, which leaves him distracted and jittery. Nikdoem even self-identifies with the kinetic energy of animals, frequently pretending to be a lion.

“Every so often the pressures of Ola’s domestic role boil to the surface; at one point, after she must repair a broken cabinet door, she shouts, ‘I’ve had enough—is nothing normal in this place?’ The muted colors, mismatched vintage wallpaper, and threadbare furnishings of Ola’s home reflect her aberrant lifestyle and the fractured nature of her family. Zamecka juxtaposes these immuring, tattered interiors with the brightness and vitality of Ola’s social life: the idyllic woods where she plays with friends, or the electronic pulsations and flashing lights of a school dance. These are brief, invigorating respites from the adult responsibilities that encumber her. Aside from some of Ola’s friends, few characters appear outside of her familial orbit. She meets with a social worker, but Zamecka keeps his face off-screen, focusing instead on Ola’s careful replies and minute expressions. The priest who counsels Nikodem is shown only in profile, but we can still sense his exasperation as he tries to wrangle and prepare Nikodem for his sacrament. By obfuscating these adult bodies, Zamecka symbolizes the lack of institutional intervention available to this family.

“Communions are momentous and ornate occasions in Polish culture, but Nikodem’s spiritual milestone arrives without much fanfare. Left alone before the ceremony, Ola gingerly fixes her hair with a half-broken brush, then wrestles with the zipper of her fancy yellow-tulle dress. ‘I feel like a cartoon character!’ she cries, suspecting that she is merely costuming herself in the part of a daughter with a functional nuclear family. When Magda eventually returns, Zamecka collapses her long-awaited arrival under the weight of the family’s rigid tension and banality, suggesting that Ola must abandon her naïve self-delusions and acknowledge that the fault lines between her parents are irreparable. The reunited family remains mostly silent during the post-communion dinner, wolfing down their food. Ola scrounges for every second she can have that day with her mom, who makes discreet phone calls to her new partner to barter for more time with her children. There are indications that this other man is abusive, but Zamecka shrouds the adults’ personal details and history in mystery, perhaps to reflect the children’s unawareness. Ola’s wish comes true when her mother decides to move back in, but then she is saddled with caring for her infant half-sibling and mediating her parents’ fierce bickering. Thus, the tiny apartment seems more claustrophobic than ever, with bodies constantly crowding the film’s frame.

“The sacrament of communion is meant to foster one’s independent relationship with God, but it is the earthly relationships that are at stake in Communion. In regards to Ola’s mother, one of the social workers tells her, ‘There are two of you—it is a mutual relationship,’ but that is hardly the case. The lack of reciprocity in the adult/child relationships in Communion is disquieting; because of her absent parents, Ola endures hardships that no child should have to bear. Holy Communion also symbolizes a child’s entry into adulthood because they confront the idea that they are born with sin, but Ola and Nikodem’s innocence has long been lost, and they are the ones who must pay for the adults’ sins. Although the siblings’ parents care for them, they cannot see past their own problems. In her captivating and unsettling portrait of lost youth, Zamecka follows her destitute subjects with a patient and intimate observational style, imbuing the narrative with a palpable tension and touching upon her film’s many emotional notes with a quiet grace.”


JANUARY 4 (streaming on Netflix): El Potro: Unstoppable (dir. Lorena Muñoz)Netflix synopsis: “Argentine cuarteto singer Rodrigo ‘El Potro’ Bueno rises to fame amid personal struggles in this dramatization of the charismatic superstar’s life.”


JANUARY 4 (streaming on Netflix): Lionheart (dir. Genevieve Nnaji)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis: “The directorial debut of one of Africa’s biggest screen stars, Lionheart shows Nigeria’s Genevieve Nnaji taking full creative control of the kind of empowering story that endeared her to Nollywood audiences all over the world. The director and co-writer also stars in the film as Adaeze, a savvy businesswoman who is itching to take over the reins of her father’s transport enterprise. Blinded by sexism, Dad favours his son for the top job, forcing Adaeze to work even harder to realize her ambition without seeming to go against her father’s wishes; but when she discovers that the family company has a faulty financial foundation, she is finally compelled to take the driver’s seat. Fresh from its world premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Nnaji’s vibrant and engaging drama evokes both King Lear and 9 to 5.


JANUARY 4: Rust Creek (dir. Jen McGowan) (DP: Michelle Lawler)IFC Center synopsis: “An ordinary woman must summon extraordinary courage to survive a nightmare odyssey in this harrowing survival thriller. Sawyer (Hermione Corfield) is an ambitious, overachieving college senior with a seemingly bright future. While on her way to a job interview, a wrong turn leaves her stranded deep in the frozen Kentucky woods. Suddenly, the young woman with everything to live for finds herself facing her own mortality as she’s punished by the elements and pursued by a band of ruthless outlaws. With nowhere left to run, she is forced into an uneasy alliance with Lowell (Jay Paulson), an enigmatic loner with shadowy intentions. Though she’s not sure she can trust him, Sawyer must take a chance if she hopes to escape Rust Creek alive.”


JANUARY 11 (NYC/LA): Touch Me Not (dir. Adina Pintilie)Museum of Modern Art synopsis: “‘Tell me how you loved me, so I understand how to love.’ Together, a filmmaker and her characters venture into a personal research project about intimacy. On the fluid border between reality and fiction, Touch Me Not follows the emotional journeys of Laura (Laura Benson), Tómas (Tómas Lemarquis), and Christian (Christian Bayerlein), offering a deeply empathic insight into their lives. Craving for intimacy yet also deeply afraid of it, they work to overcome old patterns, defense mechanisms, and taboos, to cut the cord and finally be free. Touch Me Not looks at how we can find intimacy in the most unexpected ways, at how to love another without losing ourselves.”


JANUARY 16: What Is Democracy? (dir. Astra Taylor) (DP: Maya Bankovic)Zeitgeist Films synopsis: “Coming at a moment of profound political and social crisis, What Is Democracy? reflects on a word we too often take for granted.

“Director Astra Taylor’s idiosyncratic, philosophical journey spans millennia and continents: from ancient Athens’ groundbreaking experiment in self-government to capitalism’s roots in medieval Italy; from modern-day Greece grappling with financial collapse and a mounting refugee crisis to the United States reckoning with its racist past and the growing gap between rich and poor.

“Featuring a diverse cast—including celebrated theorists, trauma surgeons, activists, factory workers, asylum seekers, and former prime ministers—this urgent film connects the past and the present, the emotional and the intellectual, the personal and the political, in order to provoke and inspire. If we want to live in democracy, we must first ask what the word even means.”


JANUARY 17 (in theaters), JANUARY 18 (on VOD & digital): All These Small Moments (dir. Melissa B. Miller-Costanzo)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis: “Howie Sheffield (Brendan Meyer) is having rough year. He broke his arm, and, on top of that, he and his little brother Simon are unwilling witnesses to their parents’ (Molly Ringwald and Brian d’Arcy James) crumbling marriage. The only thing that keeps him going is the mysterious Odessa (Jemima Kirke), a young woman he sees everyday on his morning bus route. Soon, Howie’s worlds begin to collide as he cultivates a tentative friendship with his beguiling classmate Lindsay (a sensational Harley Quinn Smith), as Odessa is drawn into his circle, and as his parents struggle with whether to stay together or split up.

“First-time writer and director Melissa Miller Costanzo brilliantly brings to life this absorbing coming-of-age tale with heartfelt, nuanced storytelling and genuine intimacy. Shot on the streets of New York City, All These Small Moments features familiar neighborhoods and street corners that seem to change and expand alongside Howie as he travels a circuitous path to self-discovery and adulthood.”


JANUARY 18 (in theaters & on VOD): An Acceptable Loss (dir. Joe Chappelle) (DP: Petra Korner)IFC Center synopsis: “She was the ultimate patriot. Now, what she knows could bring down the government. Libby Lamm (Tika Sumpter) is a former top national security advisor who, while working with Rachel Burke (Jamie Lee Curtis), a ruthless, steely-willed political veteran, signed off on a controversial military action that was supposed to end the war on terror. The problem: thousands died under false pretenses. Haunted by what she knows, Libby sets out to tell the truth, risking treason—and her own life—to expose a cover-up that stretches all the way to the highest levels of government. This gripping saga of lies, conspiracy, and betrayal is an explosive look at what it takes to do the right thing—even if that means going up against your own country.”


JANUARY 18 (in theaters & on VOD): Adult Life Skills (dir. Rachel Tunnard) (DP: Bet Rourich)NPR’s Tribeca Film Festival (2016) review by Linda Holmes: “One of the best things about covering film festivals — like the Tribeca Film Festival, where I’ll be for a couple of days — is seeing people’s work with very little context around it. By the time films are released in theaters, particularly when they’re being heavily marketed, I usually know a lot about them. I know something about what to expect, I know a good bit about the directors and actors, and very often, the film has been on various planning calendars for months.

“But particularly with smaller or midsize festivals (Tribeca is lower in profile than Toronto, for instance), I often run into things I’ve never even heard of until they show up in the film guide. Not only is this a useful reminder of just how much art is being made at all times of which even professional critics are unaware or vaguely aware, but it’s a chance to meet a piece of work with almost no expectations at all.

Adult Life Skills is the first feature from writer-director Rachel Tunnard, who first made a short called Emotional Fusebox that was nominated for a BAFTA award. She calls the short a ‘pilot’ for Adult Life Skills, which is having its world premiere here at Tribeca.

“The film stars Jodie Whittaker — whom I knew as the grieving mother in Broadchurch and whose other credits include Attack The Block and Black Mirror — as Anna, a woman about to turn 30 who’s living in the shed in her mother’s garden. Mom is about ready to kick her out, but Anna mostly stays holed up in there, making low-fi web videos where she draws faces on her thumbs. She has an outgoing best friend who wants her recover from what turns out to be buried grief, an awkward maybe-suitor, a plain-spoken grandma, and a sad child living next door who craves her attention even as she only reluctantly gives it to him.

“There are pieces of a lot of familiar stories here: a little About A Boy, a little Young Adult, a little Bridget Jones even. More than that, though, Adult Life Skills pulls from the deep well of the Quirky Oddball Picture, recalling everything from Juno to Submarine to Moonrise Kingdom. There is a quality to it that feels not necessarily cliched, but familiar. And what it amounts to in that regard is a genre film.

“It only makes sense that just as superhero films draw on other superhero films, and romances on romances and mysteries on mysteries, stories about the quirky oddball’s journey would influence each other and grow their own tropes. The composition of the shots that often isolates the oddball traveling across the screen, the editing rhythms, the frequent use of what High Fidelity called ‘sad bastard music’ — it would be easy to see the patterns emerge and to disengage on the theory that you’ve seen the film before.

“But as with any genre film, the trick is execution. Whittaker is so good in this role, so believable and sympathetic, that even the expected beats that perhaps shouldn’t work can work. Similarly, the press notes say that there was originally to be no potential love interest until Tunnard came across Brett Goldstein and wrote him a role as an offbeat old friend of Anna’s who gives the best explanation of the ending of Grease that I’ve ever heard, by the way. His role is small enough but valuable enough that it makes sense. It may be an outgrowth of that fact that because the film was conceived without a romantic element, the romantic element doesn’t seem like the driver of Anna’s story but the result of it, and that’s a good thing.

“That’s not to say Adult Life Skills doesn’t flirt with driving itself into a ditch. Let us be frank about children for a moment: putting a moppet in your movie is a dangerous thing, particularly if that moppet is in acute need, as the neighbor kid Clint is here. It can feel like a fat thumb on the scale, forcing emotion from the audience and even blackmailing it out of other characters in unnatural ways. But Ozzy Myers, whom Tunnard says she found at a school in Leeds and who had never acted before, is so unforced as Clint, and his chemistry with Whittaker is so good, that they pretty much pull it off. Here’s hoping experience with acting doesn’t ruin his acting.

“One of the curious things about recognizing a movie’s general style as fitting within your experience of films generally or festival films in particular is that when something happens that isn’t quite what you’re expecting, it jumps toward you. There is a moment late in the film in which Tunnard unexpectedly cuts to an embrace between Anna’s mother (Lorraine Ashbourne) and grandmother (Eileen Davies) that instantly takes both beyond being essentially the frustrated, disappointed mother and the frank, wise grandmother. It communicates an enormous amount about what’s been going on under Anna’s nose that she hasn’t seen because she is so withdrawn and so sad. That’s the kind of little spin on the formula that makes a genre work stand out.

“I can’t imagine a person experienced with offbeat English-language films of the last ten years not seeing much that’s familiar in Adult Life Skills, but it’s a lovely movie with some very good performances and it makes some very good choices. As, eventually, does Anna.”


JANUARY 18 (streaming on Netflix): Close (dir. Vicky Jewson)Netflix Media Center synopsis: “Inspired by the life of the world’s leading female bodyguard, Jacquie Davis, the film follows Sam (Noomi Rapace), a counter-terrorist expert used to war zones, who takes on the job of protecting Zoe (Sophie Nélisse), a young and rich heiress — a babysitting job for her. But a violent attempted kidnapping forces the two to go on the run. Now they’ve got to take some lives — or lose theirs.”


JANUARY 18 (in theaters & on VOD/digital): Egg (dir. Marianna Palka) (DP: Zelmira Gainza)The Playlist’s Tribeca Film Festival review by Kimber Myers: “With this sharp satire, director Marianna Palka continues poking and prodding at the various phases of women’s lives. In her 2008 directorial debut Good Dick, she took aim at dating with its anti-romantic comedy approach. Her 2017 pitch-black offering Bitch explored the life of a stay-at-home mother and wife who is so fed up with her treatment by her cheating husband and misbehaving kids that she begins acting like a vicious dog. With Egg, Palka makes what could be a thematic prequel to Bitch as its characters dissect the many decisions around pregnancy, childbirth, and the gender roles of raising children.

“When Karen (Christina Hendricks) visits her art school friend Tina (Alysia Reiner), the stark contrasts between the two are immediately clear. Karen and her husband, Don (David Alan Basche), are fast approaching the due date of their first child, and they take a traditional approach to pregnancy and parenting. Meanwhile, Tina and her husband, Wayne (Gbenga Akinnagbe), are forging a different path to parenthood. Tina is a conceptual artist and as a part of her upcoming ambitious show on motherhood, she is using Wayne’s friend Kiki (Anna Camp) as a surrogate for their baby. Over the course of an afternoon at Tina and Wayne’s Brooklyn loft, they discuss the merits of each couple’s choices as well as the larger philosophical debate around women and their relationships – or lack thereof – to motherhood. When Kiki finally appears, clad in cutoffs and bemoaning her belly, the day takes an unexpected turn.

Egg has the air of a stage play, with most of the film composed of people talking in a single location. But there’s real attention paid to the visuals, beyond just production designer Sally Levi’s detailed, lived-in creation of an artist’s loft and studio. As director of photography, Zelmira Gainza shoots the space with warmth and strong framing, keeping it from feeling like you’re watching a filmed theatrical piece with no sense of the cinematic medium.

“Palka’s last film, Bitch, had an equal satirical bite to this one, but it was intentionally over the top in its depiction of behavior and choices. Here Risa Mickenberg’s screenplay does amplify the absurdity of its characters and their situations for effect, but all five people in this film seem as though they could really exist, though you might not want to know them in real life. Egg may be making a statement, but the interaction between Karen and Tina largely is authentic, as their dynamic moves between long-simmering competition, outright animosity and sympathetic support. It all works due to Hendricks and Reiner’s performances, who offer emotional grounding to the comedy. Akinnagbe, Basche, and Camp are each hilarious, but the two leads make Egg both funny and real.

“The satire focuses not only on women’s own relationships to motherhood but also on how they’re judged, regardless of what their choices are, in every aspect of it. That judgment comes from all angles: other women, their partners and themselves. Egg deserves credit for shedding a special light on women who actively choose not to be mothers, a subject that might be growing on women’s sites but still isn’t often depicted on screen. Despite all the judgment of these characters by other characters, Egg itself refuses to do the same to them. It may poke fun at Karen and Tina, but it never says that their choices around motherhood aren’t valid and deserving of happiness. Its ultimate sympathy for these women may be at odds with earlier jabs at them, but it creates an empathetic space that is surprisingly emotionally satisfying.”


JANUARY 18: Who Will Write Our History? (dir. Roberta Grossman) (DP: Dyanna Taylor)Quad Cinema synopsis: “With a wealth of archival footage and detailed re-enactments, this film recounts the incredible story of Emanuel Ringelblum, who secretly led a team of writers and intellectuals to preserve a vibrant Jewish culture in the Warsaw Ghetto shortly after the Nazis took over. What resulted was a startlingly deep and diverse portrait of European Jewish life, as the Oyneg Shabes Archive made an invaluable contribution to the historical record. Based on the book by Samuel Kassow.”


JANUARY 25 (streaming on Netflix): Ánimas (dirs. Laura Alvea and Jose F. Ortuño)Sitges Film Festival synopsis: “Alex (Clare Durant) is a girl with a strong personality. She’s very close to her best friend Abraham (Iván Pellicer), a shy, insecure boy as a consequence of his complex relationship with his parents. Everything changes when Abraham’s father (Luis Bermejo) dies in a bizarre accident. From this moment on, Alex will be thrust into a mind-bending trip where the line between reality and nightmares will start to start to blur.”


JANUARY 25: Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (dirs. Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi and Kangana Ranaut)AMC Theatres synopsis:Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is the story of Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi (Kangana Ranaut) who refused to cede Jhansi to the British and fought a fierce battle. Her life story is a tale of bravery, valor and woman’s strength to inspire generations to come.”

365 Day Movie Challenge: 2018

Here we are on December 31, so it’s time to go over my list of the films I watched in 2018. I didn’t watch as much as I hoped – the total count is 255 titles – but I tried my best to expand my cinematic knowledge as best as I could. On the plus side, I exceeded my goal to watch 52 films directed by women; that list appears at the bottom of the post.


1915-1919: Heart o’ the Hills; M’Liss


1920-1924: The Love Light


1925-1929: The Last Command; Piccadilly; Underworld


1930-1934: Blonde Venus; Blondie of the Follies; Bombshell; Finishing School; Flying Down to Rio; Murder in the Clouds; The Phantom of Paris


1935-1939: Mark of the Vampire; The Spy in Black; Theodora Goes Wild; The Whole Town’s Talking


1940-1944: The Black Swan; Dive Bomber; High Sierra; In This Our Life; Out of the Fog; The Woman in the Window


1945-1949: Dark Passage; Deep Valley; It Rains on Our Love; Paris 1900; Pillow to Post; The Threat; The Wicked Lady; Wonder Man


1950-1954: Angel Face; Armored Car Robbery; Father Is a Bachelor; Hell’s Half Acre; I Was an American Spy; Kansas City Confidential; Knock on Wood; Lullaby of Broadway; The Man Who Cheated Himself; The Prowler; Rue de l’Estrapade; A Star Is Born; This Can’t Happen Here (aka High Tension); The West Point Story; Young at Heart


1955-1959: The Bat; Eyewitness; Hell Drivers; Meet Me in Las Vegas; The Tingler


1960-1964: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb; The Happy Thieves; Zotz!


1965-1969: Flesh; The Girls; The Sex Killer; Take Me Naked; A Thousand Pleasures


1970-1974: The Altar of Lust; Angel on Fire (aka Angel Number 9); Heat; Trash; Women in Revolt


1975-1979: Demon Seed; Eyes of Laura Mars; Face to Face; The Mafu Cage; A Star Is Born; Suspiria


1980-1984: The Company of Wolves; Deadly Blessing; Fatso; Losing Ground; Making Love; Ms .45; Rocktober Blood; Sleepaway Camp; The Slumber Party Massacre; Special Effects


1985-1989: The Blob; Blood Sisters; Bloodsport; Call Me; Do the Right Thing; The Fly; Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers; Halloween 5 (aka Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers); Just One of the Guys; A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master; A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child; 9½ Weeks; Pet Sematary; Poltergeist II: The Other Side; Throw Momma from the Train; To Live and Die in L.A.; Twins


1990-1994: Bad Lieutenant; Blue Steel; Boxing Helena; Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Double Impact; Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare; The Hand That Rocks the Cradle; Indecent Proposal; Jungle Fever; King of New York; Mixed Nuts; The Night and the Moment; Passenger 57; Predator 2; Renaissance Man; Single White Female; Sliver; That Night; Universal Soldier


1995-1999: Armageddon; The Babysitter; Clockers; The Devil’s Advocate; Embrace of the Vampire; Fire; Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers; Halloween H20: 20 Years Later; Jumanji; Lines from the Heart; Office Killer; Ravenous; Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion; The Sixth Sense; Velvet Goldmine; The World Is Not Enough; You’ve Got Mail


2000-2004: American Psycho; Bring It On; Campfire Stories; Coyote Ugly; 8 Mile; Halloween: Resurrection; Jurassic Park III; Lara Croft: Tomb Raider; Latter Days; Layer Cake; The Nomi Song; Thirteen Conversations About One Thing; 13 Going on 30; The Tollbooth; Wet Hot American Summer; The Woodsman


2005-2009: Basic Instinct 2; Belle Toujours; Brokeback Mountain; Bug; Dorothy Mills; Jennifer’s Body; Must Love Dogs; My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done; Penelope; The Ring Finger; Teeth


2010-2014: Coffee Town; Easy A; Elena; Going the Distance; Honeymoon; The Iceman; Iron Man 2; Kiss of the Damned; The Lifeguard; Margarita with a Straw; Middle of Nowhere; Mosquita y Mari; Scream 4; Soulmate; 12 Years a Slave; Very Good Girls; The Voices; Young Adult


2015-2018: Allure; American Made; Anything; Atomic Blonde; Avengers: Infinity War; Battle of the Sexes; Beach Rats; Black Butterfly; Black Panther; Blockers; Bohemian Rhapsody; Book Club; The Bye Bye Man; Come Sunday; The Commuter; Crazy Rich Asians; Darkest Hour; Doctor Strange; Don’t Call Me Son; The D Train; The Favourite; The Feels; The Female Brain; Fifty Shades Freed; First Reformed; Fist Fight; The Florida Project; Flower; 47 Meters Down; Freak Show; Freeheld; Front Cover; The Girl on the Train; Good Time; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; Half Magic; Hooligan Sparrow; Hotel Artemis; The House; The Incredible Jessica James; The Innocents; Itzhak; Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom; Justice League; A Kid Like Jake; Lady Bird; Love, Simon; The Lure; Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again; Marjorie Prime; Mission: Impossible – Fallout; mother!; Nancy; Oh Lucy!; Pacific Rim: Uprising; The Party; Patriots Day; A Quiet Place; Raw; Searching; Shirkers; Skyscraper; Sorry to Bother You; A Star Is Born; Stronger; Suspiria; 10×10; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Three Identical Strangers; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before; 12 Strong; Unexpected; Venom; War on Everyone; What Haunts Us; Wolves; Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

BONUS: 52 Films by Women Challenge (which I went well beyond!):

  1. Battle of the Sexes (2017) – dirs. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
  2. Freak Show (2017) – dir. Trudie Styler
  3. The Girls (1968) – dir. Mai Zetterling
  4. Elena (2012) – dir. Petra Costa
  5. Lines from the Heart (1996) – dir. Christina Olofson
  6. The Woodsman (2004) – dir. Nicole Kassell
  7. Finishing School (1934) – dirs. George Nichols Jr. and Wanda Tuchock
  8. Don’t Call Me Son (2016) – dir. Anna Muylaert
  9. Unexpected (2015) – dir. Kris Swanberg
  10. Margarita with a Straw (2014) – dirs. Shonali Bose and Nilesh Maniyar
  11. Paris 1900 (1947) – dir. Nicole Védrès
  12. Lady Bird (2017) – dir. Greta Gerwig
  13. The Female Brain (2017) – dir. Whitney Cummings
  14. Losing Ground (1982) – dir. Kathleen Collins
  15. The Love Light (1921) – dir. Frances Marion
  16. Middle of Nowhere (2012) – dir. Ava DuVernay
  17. Hooligan Sparrow (2016) – dir. Nanfu Wang
  18. Itzhak (2017) – dir. Alison Chernick
  19. Eyewitness (1956) – dir. Muriel Box
  20. The Innocents (2016) – dir. Anne Fontaine
  21. Half Magic (2018) – dir. Heather Graham
  22. Going the Distance (2010) – dir. Nanette Burstein
  23. Fatso (1980) – dir. Anne Bancroft
  24. What Haunts Us (2017) – dir. Paige Goldberg Tolmach
  25. The Party (2017) – dir. Sally Potter
  26. Take Me Naked (1966) – dirs. Michael Findlay and Roberta Findlay
  27. The Lifeguard (2013) – dir. Liz W. Garcia
  28. Just One of the Guys (1985) – dir. Lisa Gottlieb
  29. 10×10 (2018) – dir. Suzi Ewing
  30. The Feels (2017) – dir. Jenée LaMarque
  31. The Ring Finger (2005) – dir. Diane Bertrand
  32. Blockers (2018) – dir. Kay Cannon
  33. Fire (1996) – dir. Deepa Mehta
  34. Very Good Girls (2013) – dir. Naomi Foner
  35. Beach Rats (2017) – dir. Eliza Hittman
  36. Mosquita y Mari (2012) – dir. Aurora Guerrero
  37. Embrace of the Vampire (1995) – dir. Anne Goursaud
  38. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) – dir. Amy Holden Jones
  39. Kiss of the Damned (2012) – dir. Xan Cassavetes
  40. American Psycho (2000) – dir. Mary Harron
  41. Blood Sisters (1987) – dir. Roberta Findlay
  42. Ravenous (1999) – dir. Antonia Bird
  43. Honeymoon (2014) – dir. Leigh Janiak
  44. Pet Sematary (1989) – dir. Mary Lambert
  45. Dorothy Mills (2008) – dir. Agnès Merlet
  46. The Voices (2014) – dir. Marjane Satrapi
  47. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) – dir. Fran Rubel Kuzui
  48. Jennifer’s Body (2009) – dir. Karyn Kusama
  49. The Lure (2015) – dir. Agnieszka Smoczynska
  50. Office Killer (1997) – dir. Cindy Sherman
  51. The Mafu Cage (1978) – dir. Karen Arthur
  52. The Bye Bye Man (2017) – dir. Stacy Title
  53. Soulmate (2013) – dir. Axelle Carolyn
  54. Rocktober Blood (1984) – dir. Beverly Sebastian
  55. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) – dir. Rachel Talalay
  56. Boxing Helena (1993) – dir. Jennifer Lynch
  57. Raw (2016) – dir. Julia Ducournau
  58. Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001) – dir. Jill Sprecher
  59. Oh Lucy! (2017) – dir. Atsuko Hirayanagi
  60. Blue Steel (1990) – dir. Kathryn Bigelow
  61. Shirkers (2018) – dir. Sandi Tan
  62. The Tollbooth (2004) – dir. Debra Kirschner
  63. The Altar of Lust (1971) – dir. Roberta Findlay
  64. Angel Number 9 (aka Angel on Fire) (1974) – dir. Roberta Findlay
  65. You’ve Got Mail (1998) – dir. Nora Ephron
  66. Mixed Nuts (1994) – dir. Nora Ephron
  67. The Night and the Moment (1994) – dir. Anna Maria Tatò
  68. Nancy (2018) – dir. Christina Choe
  69. Renaissance Man (1994) – dir. Penny Marshall
  70. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) – dir. Susan Johnson

October Diary: 10 Films from a Month of Watching Horror Cinema by Women Directors

All this month, I have paid special attention to horror films directed by women. Inspired by my recent post about Mary Harron’s category-defying satire American Psycho, I thought I would publish some of the notes I took after watching ten particular titles on my October checklist. Ghost stories, vampire romances, slasher pics, period pieces about cannibalism, predatory-mermaid musicals, genre parodies – I tried it all.


The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) – dir. Amy Holden Jones (notes written: Mon. 10/8/18)

Rita Mae Brown, famed writer of the groundbreaking lesbian-themed novel Rubyfruit Jungle (1973), penned the original screenplay for The Slumber Party Massacre (available for free on YouTube), which was made in collaboration with Amy Holden Jones in her directorial debut. Originally intended to be a satire of slasher films, the finished product ends up coming across more like a regular (serious) horror flick than a parody, but in a brief 77 minutes, Jones and Brown deliver an entertaining thriller with plenty of gore.

The plot is simple and straightforward: serial killer Russ Thorn (Michael Villella) escapes from prison and fixates on a bunch of high schoolers as his next victims. Linda (Brinke Stevens) meets a bloody demise in the locker room after her friends have already left; the rest of the group of girls – Trish (Michelle Michaels), KIm (Debra De Liso), Jackie (Andree Honore) and Diane (Gina Smika Hunter) – become Thorn’s targets when they gather at Trish’s house for a sleepover. Two sisters who live across the street from Trish, Valerie (Robin Stille) and Courtney Bates (Jennifer Meyers), initially try to hold back their interests in crashing the party, but they soon realize that all is not well at Trish’s residence, leading the Bates girls to inspect the property for themselves and get ensnared in Thorn’s web.

Like pretty much every other film in its genre from that time period (or this one, probably), The Slumber Party Massacre is a hotbed of gratuitous T&A. It’s not necessary for the camera to lasciviously linger on images of the female characters in various states of undress, like when they take showers after gym class at school or change into pajamas at Trish’s place (in front of an open window, of course), but then again, it was essentially a requirement for nudity and sexual content to appear to some degree in horror films made in the early 80s. Despite the annoyingly predictable objectification of female bodies, what The Slumber Party Massacre gets right is its character development, some good acting among the young leads (particularly Robin Stille, whose Valerie character turns out to be a real badass; sadly, Stille committed suicide in 1996) and a number of genuine thrills and jump scares. That the misogynistic killer’s weapon of choice is a power drill is an effective piece of phallic symbolism on Rita Mae Brown’s part, and the way in which Thorn’s reign of terror is stopped furthers Brown’s point.

I also appreciate Massacre’s nods to some classic horror from earlier generations. The most obvious homage is to Psycho, given the use of the last name “Bates” for two of the main characters, but there is also a scene in which a character’s murder echoes a similar death in Jacques Tourneur’s The Leopard Man (1943), showing a victim clawing at a door that the people on the other side refuse to open, a decision that concludes with the corpse’s blood oozing under the doorway. Massacre also features solid direction by Amy Holden Jones, excellent cinematography by Stephen L. Posey and a suitably unsettling score by Ralph Jones, so there’s quite a bit to recommend the film for your October schedule.


Blood Sisters (1987) – dir. Roberta Findlay (notes written: Sun. 10/14/18)

New York-based filmmaker Roberta Findlay could probably do just about any job required in the motion picture industry. For the horror film Blood Sisters (available via YouTube), she worked as director, screenwriter, cinematographer (I’m pretty sure she shot almost all of her films) and co-editor (with Walter E. Sear, who had additional contributions as producer, production manager and score composer). Mind you, I’m not saying that the end result is any good – Blood Sisters is one of the strangest horror flicks I’ve seen recently – but it has its share of fun aspects.

Findlay’s film is both a stereotypical entry in the slasher genre, concerning a deranged killer stalking sorority girls who are spending the night in a notoriously “haunted” former brothel, and also a supernatural thriller since there really are apparitions in the creaky old house. As we can guess from the film’s opening scene, in which a little girl rejects the affections of a boy her age and he immediately runs to the brothel to shoot all of the prostitutes (including his mother) and patrons, the present-day murderer is that same boy as an adult. During the college students’ stay in the ex-brothel, some of the young women see visions of the dead prostitutes and the clients in mirrors; the appearances by these specters seem to be tailored according to sexual orientation since some of the main characters are shown heterosexual couplings, while the one lesbian in the group is presented with the memory of a sexual encounter between a pair of women.

Despite the usual conventions of the horror genre, the sexuality on display in Findlay’s film is pretty tame, which is somewhat surprising (and maybe a little disappointing) since everything she directed between and 1971 and 1985 was hardcore pornography. I wondered if Findlay was motivated to give horror a try because sexploitation filmmaker Doris Wishman did so with A Night to Dismember (1983), but according to a 2017 interview, Findlay claimed never to have seen any of Wishman’s work. (It’s worth noting, however, that Blood Sisters referenced the title of Wishman’s slasher thriller for its own tagline.)

To recap some of the things you can see in Blood Sisters, I’ll quote the headline of one IMDb user’s review: “Possessed nightgown! Strangulation by garter belt! Lesbian hooker ghosts!“ Sure, Findlay’s film is a low-budget exercise in poor taste, and you’re more likely to roll your eyes than cower in fear, but at least there are gems peppered throughout the dialogue. Two favorite lines: one guy says to another, “Eat my shorts, tampon breath!” (reminiscent of a similar retort in another recently viewed horror film, Campfire Stories – “Stop being such a sanitary napkin, dude!” – evidently part of a tradition of insults inspired by feminine hygiene products), and in a later scene, a character wearing a neon-colored item of clothing is asked by a friend, “Alice, can’t you turn that coat off?”


Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) – dir. Fran Rubel Kuzui (notes written: Sat. 10/20/18)

Before Sarah Michelle Gellar found superstardom as the title vanquisher of the undead, Kristy Swanson brought the starring role of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to life. As the Valley girl armed with plenty of wooden stakes, gymnastics skills for days and an infinite array of cute neon crop tops and leggings – thank you for your service, early 90s fashion, you were truly inspired – Swanson embodies the heroine of Joss Whedon’s original screenplay and makes her hilarious, badass, sensitive and altogether awesome.

The rest of the cast is stacked with both established actors and newcomers, all of whom do great work: Luke Perry, Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens (I guess this was one of his first high-profile projects following his 1991 arrest; he’s unrecognizable and a delight to watch), Rutger Hauer, Hilary Swank (making her big screen debut at age 17), David Arquette, Stephen Root (he steals every scene he’s in as the principal at Buffy’s high school), Natasha Gregson Wagner (she has my favorite line reading of the movie, asking her friends with goofy intensity, “Okay, guys, what do you think about the ozone layer?”), Candy Clark, Slash in a cameo as a prom DJ and, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bit part, Ben Affleck as a basketball-playing student. According to my TV, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a one-star production, but I say it’s a ton of fun and one of the best horror comedies I’ve seen in a long time.


Embrace of the Vampire (1995) – dir. Anne Goursaud (notes written: Sat. 10/6/18)

Now that it’s October, I plan on diving deep into the wide, seemingly unending selection of horror films that I have not yet seen. Since I am especially eager to become better acquainted with horror projects directed by women, I first took a gander at what was available in decent condition on YouTube and my first (frankly sort of random) choice was the erotic horror thriller Embrace of the Vampire.

Granted, I didn’t bother to Google the film before viewing it, but I knew two things: it starred Alyssa Milano in one of her first “adult” roles and that the director, Anne Goursaud, was best known for her work as an editor on some notable films from the 80s and 90s, including The Outsiders (1983), Crimes of the Heart (1986), Ironweed (1987) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Embrace of the Vampire served as Goursaud’s directorial debut and while I can’t say that it exhibits either an original creative aesthetic or good taste, I do want to congratulate her for casting Martin Kemp as the nameless vampire who haunts virginal college student Charlotte (Milano), luring her via sex dreams and in hallucinations she has while sitting in her art history class. I can’t tell you how hard I chuckled when the opening credits rolled and I said to myself, “Martin Kemp? Do I know this much is true or is that not one of the Spandau Ballet guys?” (It was, he was the band’s bassist.) Unintentional as it was from the director’s point of view, I laughed every time Kemp’s moody character showed up.

Kemp is both a terrible actor and not particularly sexy (sorry, but that matters for this genre of film), so to be brutally honest it makes sense that the only reason why Milano’s character would be drawn to him is through forces outside of her control. On the other hand, Charlotte’s boyfriend, Chris (Harold Pruett), is barely a Casanova either, but I will not comment on his looks since I was saddened to read that Harold Pruett died of a drug overdose in 2002, a tragic end for a former child almost-star. Anyway, the three best performances are from Milano, Charlotte Lewis as a bisexual photographer who lives in Charlotte’s dorm and flirts with her, and Jennifer Tilly as another vampire (or at least I think she’s undead; I don’t remember if it’s explicitly stated). Watching all of these weird characters spout inane dialogue and pursue temptations of the flesh – like an embarrassingly lengthy “orgy” (or more accurately, a lot of topless people making out) fueled by Ecstasy – is often hilariously bad.

I assume that most people would only watch Embrace of the Vampire for its perceived sexiness, but it doesn’t deliver on that count. Perhaps excessive nudity is sufficient for some viewers, but I was let down by the dearth of actual sex scenes. I figured that it was a foregone conclusion that Anne Goursaud’s film wouldn’t rate too highly on the horror scale, therefore replacing thrills with tacky romance, but the lack of smut was pretty disappointing. Maybe things could have gone differently if the vampire had been portrayed by, say, Michael Bolton.


Office Killer (1997) – dir. Cindy Sherman (notes written: Tues. 10/23/18)

Photographer and conceptual artist Cindy Sherman made her sole foray into feature filmmaking with Office Killer, a morbidly funny dark comedy about a put-upon clerk who snaps once her job status has been demoted to part-time. Proofreader and copywriter Dorine Douglas (Carol Kane) is perpetually described as “mousy” and “strange” by her colleagues at Constant Consumer Magazine, owing to her introverted nature, her tendency to jump any time a person touches her, and the fact that she lives at home as a caretaker for her disabled mother (Alice Drummond). After Constant Consumer’s overbearing CEO, Virginia Wingate (Barbara Sukowa), downsizes the staff and subsequently limits Dorine’s office time by making her work partly from home instead, our antiheroine tastes sweet revenge when she is indirectly responsible for the fatal electrocution of one of her other irritating bosses, Gary Michaels (a gloriously coiffed David Thornton), while fixing her computer during after-hours. There is no going back for Dorine after she opts to take the freshly deceased corporate lackey to her house; soon, corpses are accumulating in her basement left and right.

“It is true that to live inside a warm and nurturing environment is everybody’s dream,” Dorine muses in a voiceover, “but as we grow up we also need to experience independence and adventure.“ She takes the initiative to dispatch of all those who have wronged her, and even a few complete innocents to boot. And there are plenty more potential victims to choose from: Kim Poole (Molly Ringwald), an editor who hates Dorine’s guts for stealing one of her articles out from under her; Norah Reed (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Virginia’s second-in-command and one of the few office workers who shows any care for Dorine; and Daniel Birch (Michael Imperioli), who is Norah’s boyfriend and, more crucially, the IT expert who installs a computer in Dorine’s home and teaches her how to use email. With her newfound technological skill, Dorine manipulates the Constant Consumer hierarchy into doing her bidding and keeping her out of trouble with the law.

If the screenplay of Office Killer seems noticeably well-crafted, that is thanks to the talent involved: Cindy Sherman and Elise MacAdam wrote the underlying story, while MacAdam and Tom Kalin (renowned director of the films Swoon and Savage Grace) penned the screenplay and indie auteur Todd Haynes contributed additional dialogue. The performances are uniformly excellent, but above all the film is a showcase for Carol Kane, who is by turns adorable, pitiable and spine-chillingly menacing as Dorine. Too rarely have I seen Kane in leading roles, and certainly never one so deliciously malevolent.


Ravenous (1999) – dir. Antonia Bird (notes written: Mon. 10/15/18)

(Warning: spoilers in the last paragraph.)

Blending gruesome violence with pitch black humor and period-piece details, Ravenous is surely the only movie you’ll ever see about Mexican-American War veterans who are also cannibals. Set during the rough winter of 1847, the film follows Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce), a military man whose medal for valor in war was actually the result of cowardice – he played dead after being wounded, only getting behind enemy lines because his “corpse” was dragged there by soldiers. Because of the carnage he witnessed on the battlefield, Boyd has lost his taste for meat, but his hunger for flesh will soon return in an unexpected way after he is transferred to a new outpost in California.

Late one night, a Scotsman named F.W. Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) arrives at the camp, practically out of his mind from malnutrition. Colqhoun tells Boyd, Col. Hart (Jeffrey Jones – how I do continuously find myself watching movies with this creep?), Pvt. Toffler (Jeremy Davies) and some of his other rescuers about the terrifying circumstances of his journey across America. The party he had been traveling with lost its way during a snowstorm and they were forced to take shelter in a cave, where the lack of food eventually drove them to eat each other. Colqhoun escaped the situation when he thought he might be next on the menu, and the next day he leads Boyd and his superiors on a trip back to the cave to see if the last two survivors are still there. Unsurprisingly, this little adventure turns out to be a trap; Colqhoun clearly planned from the start to kill everyone. Only Boyd manages to flee his bloodthirsty attacker, although the price he must pay for attempting to hide in the woods will unleash his own similarly uncivilized cravings.

Pearce and Carlyle’s characters are like oil and water – Boyd is an introvert who only speaks when necessary, while Colqhoun is a loquacious gent with a penchant for flamboyant witticisms – and yet they are drawn to one another, each challenging the other in verbal and physical altercations. On the surface, Ravenous is an over-the-top dark comedy about literally carnal appetites, but the film also functions well as a metaphor for homosexuality. Colqhoun represents the embrace of gayness, while Boyd is repressed but constantly fighting the urge to succumb to the same desires. There is especially intense chemistry between the two main characters in a scene where Boyd comes close to licking blood off of a wound on Colquhoun’s hand. Numerous scenes also employ a female/gay male gaze as male characters view other men’s unclothed bodies, often searching for injuries that have penetrated the skin, to say nothing of the moment when Boyd and Colquhoun actually around roll in some hay during a melee in a barn.

Perhaps the subtext is only there for those who look for it, and the ending certainly raises questions about what the true message is if the narrative is indeed symbolic, but there is no question that Antonia Bird’s film is a delicious morsel. On the downside, Ravenous deserves points off for failing the Bechdel test so badly – there is only one female character, a Native American woman named Martha (Sheila Tousey) who exists solely to serve white men in power and to occasionally explain the local lore of her people – but one cannot argue that the film’s exploration of, shall we say, alternative lifestyles is fascinating.


Dorothy Mills (2008) – dir. Agnès Merlet (notes written: Thurs. 10/18/18)

Despite the claim made on its spooky DVD cover, the Irish psychological horror film Dorothy Mills is closer to Breaking the Waves than to The Exorcist, concerned not so much with demonic possession than with the demons of the past that have loomed large over an insular, fundamentalist community. Like the teenager Linda Blair played in that classic chiller almost half a century ago, the title character in Agnès Merlet’s film (played by Jenn Murray) is a girl not in control of her own mind and body. When a psychiatrist, Jane Morton (Carice Van Houten) is sent to the small island where Dorothy lives in the wake of a violent incident – a couple came home to find their babysitter, Dorothy, attacking their infant – the locals reveal both their hatred of the girl, their opposition to outsiders invading their territory and contradictory opinions on whether Jane should be allowed to investigate and potentially take the teen back with her to the mainland.

I wouldn’t describe Dorothy Mills as horror, but rather as a moving drama that observes how history affects and changes us, particularly with regard to tragedies that we can’t forget. It helps that the acting is solid across the board, particularly from Carice Van Houten as the conflicted psychiatrist, who is battling dark memories of her own, from Gary Lewis as Pastor Ross, whose word is law in this deeply religious region, and from the outstanding Jenn Murray (in her film debut) as the girl at the heart of the conflict. Dorothy is a complex character, to say the least, and Jenn Murray brings so many details to her performance that make watching her absolutely riveting. The cinematography by Giorgos Arvanitis also does a fine job of capturing the moods of the isolated village and its bitter residents.


Kiss of the Damned (2012) – dir. Xan Cassavetes (notes written: Thurs. 10/11/18)

Xan (Alexandra) Cassavetes, the eldest daughter of legendary auteur John Cassavetes, made her debut as a writer-director with Kiss of the Damned, an elegantly crafted horror film that is currently available to stream via Hulu. While the film initially presents itself as a romance, following the unusual courtship of French vampire Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume) and American screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), the latter of whom Djuna bites shortly after meeting, but the story soon turns into a critique of upper-class excess. The rich are often portrayed as vampires in the media, sucking the life out of those less fortunate, but in Damned, the undead characters literally do just that; they are consumers in both the materialistic and literal senses of the word. They also indulge in a particular subsection of capitalism that allows for luxuries like fancy bottles of synthetic blood and parties where the immortals gather, mostly to congratulate themselves on no longer being mere humans.

The main conflict in the film arises from the arrival of Djuna’s sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), who gets her kicks from seducing everyone she meets. This spells trouble for Djuna and Paolo, who already have a lot on their plate since they rent their house from another vampire, successful actress Xenia (Anna Mouglalis), and at one point there is an unexpected visit from Paolo’s agent, Ben (Michael Rapaport, who provides some much-needed humor). The supporting cast also includes Ching Valdes-Aran as Irene, Xenia’s housekeeper; Riley Keough as Ann, a teenage devotee of Xenia’s theatrical career; and Peter Vack as one of Mimi’s victims.

The narrative of Kiss of the Damned is thinly plotted and predictable, following the main characters yet never feeling as though much is happening. Instead, Cassavetes relies on evoking a suitably moody atmosphere to fill in the gaps in the story. Tobias Datum’s cinematography and Steven Hufsteter’s score hark back to artistic horror films of the 1960s and 70s, making the film quite aesthetically pleasing even when the acting and writing are not always satisfying.


The Voices (2014) – dir. Marjane Satrapi (notes written: Fri. 10/19/18)

Available to stream now via Netflix, The Voices is not for everyone, particularly those viewers who would rather abstain from seeing a comedy about a murderer who keeps women’s severed heads in his fridge. Even so, let it be said that The Voices is not without its charms. Ryan Reynolds does a fine job of bringing complexity, humor and, when necessary, terror to his part as Jerry, a mentally ill factory worker who stumbles into serial-killing and finds himself unable to stop; Reynolds also provides the voices that Jerry hears coming from his pets, a dog named Bosco and a cat (with an uncanny, David Tennant-esque Scottish burr) named Mr. Whiskers, who act as the proverbial angel and devil on Jerry’s shoulders.

As deeply unsettling as the concepts for the film are, it is also a bizarrely enjoyable experience. The tone sometimes shifts wildly from one scene to another, jumping from surreal satire (the film’s opening is reminiscent of Blue Velvet, introducing us to a picturesque small town with a cloying jingle on the soundtrack) to slasher flick to candy-colored musical. The performances by Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick as two of Jerry’s co-workers (and potential love interests), Fiona and Lisa, bring additional spark to the proceedings, while Jacki Weaver plays the pivotal role of Dr. Warren, Jerry’s sympathetic psychiatrist. The creative approaches taken in telling this story arise from the collaboration between director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Chicken with Plums) and screenwriter Michael R. Perry (his background seems to be primarily TV), and while the film has its shaky moments here and there, it is highly entertaining and it continually kept me guessing what would happen next.


The Lure (2015) – dir. Agnieszka Smoczynska (notes written: Mon. 10/22/18)

Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska’s debut feature The Lure (which I believe is still available to stream through FilmStruck) is surely unlike any other film you’ve seen lately, blending fantasy, horror and romance into a musical set in Warsaw during the 1980s. A pair of mermaid sisters, Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszanska), are brought onto dry land by a trio of cabaret performers – singer Krysia (Kinga Preis), her drummer boyfriend (Andrzej Konopka) and a twentysomething bassist (Jakub Gierszal) – who discover that the sisters are capable of transforming their tails into human women’s legs. Silver and Golden are added to the nightclub act, charming customers with backup singing that soon gives the siblings a chance for pop stardom of their own as a duo.

The interior of the club shimmers from the glittery costumes designed by Katarzyna Lewinska (who worked on another great film I saw earlier this year, The Innocents), the cinematography by Jakub Kijowski and the original music written and composed by Marcin Macuk, Barbara Wrońska and Zuzanna Wrońska specifically for the film, modeled on the synthpop and New Wave genres popular in that era. My personal favorite cut from the soundtrack is “I Came to the City,” a poppy ode to materialism sung by Silver, Golden and Krysia during a lavish shopping spree that they embark on while working-class citizens protest outside on the streets of Communist-run Warsaw (“I’m new to the city/I wanted to put my best foot forward/Change what I can change and get their attention/A mention, a nod … the city will tell us what it is we lack!”). Another musical highlight that was not created by the film’s composers, though, is a dazzling cover of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” sung by Krysia after the film’s opening credits as our introduction to the cabaret environment.

The Lure can be seen as an update of Hans Christian Andersen’s fable “The Little Mermaid,” but Smoczynska’s version is markedly more adult. Silver and Golden take different approaches in adjusting to the world of two-legged humans and individually realizing their burgeoning erotic yearnings; Golden entices men and women into sexual situations that she uses to turn them into dinner (the sisters have an insatiable hunger for human flesh), while Silver experiences first love when she falls for the band’s cute, shaggy-haired bassist. Informed by her would-be lover that she will always be “a fish” to him as long as she does not have the typical female reproductive organs, Silver elects to sacrifice her aquatic anatomy by agreeing to undergo a dangerous operation that will make her a “real” woman.

There are consequences for Silver’s decision, however, and The Lure serves as a compelling look at the impact that love and lust have on women, as well as the price women sometimes pay when they think more of a man’s happiness than they do their own. Furthermore, the film explores what it means to inhabit a woman’s body, especially in the context of the importance a man places on a woman having a vagina in order to be perceived as whole and normal. Yes, there is blood, violence and death in The Lure, but the true horror is in how men manipulate women when, in the end, family may actually be the strongest bond of all.

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: October 2018

Director Marielle Heller (center) with actresses Dolly Wells and Melissa McCarthy on the set of Can You Ever Forgive Me?, 2017. (Photo: Town & Country)

Here are twenty-six new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this October, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

OCTOBER 3: Moynihan (dirs. Joseph Dorman and Toby Perl Freilich)Film Forum synopsis: “‘Everyone is entitled to his own opinion – but not to his own facts.’ – Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003). His aristocratic demeanor and Harvard polish belied Moynihan’s Depression-era roots in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen, the son of a single mother. Joseph Dorman (his documentary, Arguing the World, which we opened in 1998, is a thrilling account of the 60-year battle among New York’s 20th century intellectuals), with co-filmmaker Toby Perl Freilich (Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment), now give us a portrait of a complex man who struggled to alleviate poverty and racism, but who was maligned for his use of the expression ‘benign neglect.’ Ta-Nehisi Coates, Eleanor Holmes Norton, George Will, and Henry Kissinger give insight into this “connoisseur of statistics” who served four presidents, anticipated the breakup of the Soviet Union, and was as comfortable writing about philosophy, ethnicity, and architecture as he was rethinking the Social Security and welfare systems.”

OCTOBER 5 (in theaters & streaming on Netflix): Private Life (dir. Tamara Jenkins)RogerEbert.com review by Matt Zoller Seitz: “Sometimes you want something so badly that you chase it for years, and the quest takes over everything.

“That’s what happened to Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti), the protagonists of Private Life, a comedy-drama about a forty-something New York couple who are desperate to become parents.

“Rachel is 41. She’s not as fertile as she used to be. Richard is 47. He has just one testicle, and it happens to be blocked. This is a terrible state of affairs for any couple, but a comic gold mine for actors who express frustration as brilliantly as these two. We sense early on that Rachel and Richard’s obsession distracts them from dealing with longstanding issues in their marriage, and maybe individual neuroses as well. Richard was once an acclaimed actor and theater impresario. He now runs a pickle-making company. Rachel is a writer who’s trying to finish a new novel. She’s finding it hard to stay focused with all the obstetrical drama going on. They know having a child is a long shot. They’ve tried various procedures and treatments and flirted with adoption and surrogates. They refuse to give up. Should they?

“The first part of Private Life follows Rachel and Richard through the medical system, undergoing tests to figure out if they have a specific problem that can be fixed by science. Their fertility sherpa, Dr. Dordick (Denis O’Hare), speaks frankly of the obstacles in their path. They hear him but don’t absorb the facts as deeply as they should—or maybe they’re just hopeless optimists. Richard and Rachel are close with their in-laws—Richard’s brother Charlie (John Carroll Lynch), his second wife Cynthia (Molly Shannon), and Cynthia’s college-age daughter Sadie (Kalyi Carter)—and lean on them for emotional support and sometimes more. There’s a bit of drama early on when Richard asks Charlie for a loan to pay for a medical test. Cynthia explodes, warning him that they’ve been at this forever and that he needs to stop enabling them.

“The movie shifts into a different mode—less raucously funny, more tenderly observant—when Sadie, a budding fiction writer herself, moves in with Richard and Rachel, and the couple asks if she’d donate her eggs. (The movie makes sure to spell out that none of them are related—Charlie being Richard’s stepbrother and Cynthia’s second husband.) Sadie is intrigued. She needs the money. She loves Richard and Rachel. And she’s at her own crossroads in life, and maybe feeling it’s time for a gesture as dramatic as anything in the short stories that she loves (or in fiction written by classmates that she gripes about—mostly ‘thinly veiled autobiographical crap about their upbringing;’ Sadie is oblivious to the fact that she’s living some of the same cliches she despises in the fiction and the lives of others).

“I don’t want to go into too much detail about the bulk of the story because the plot takes a lot of twists and turns, some predictable, others unexpected, and because what’s important are the observations, visual as well as verbal, embedded in each scene. The film’s writer-director, Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills, Savages) is a brilliant chronicler of upper-middle class white people and their foibles, and her eye for detail is anthropologically exact, empathetic but never begging for sympathy. She’s aware that these people can be myopic and petty, and that they’re so wrapped up in their individual dramas that they fail to appreciate what they do have; but she also understands the deep biological urges that drive Richard and Rachel, who spent the first part of adulthood committing to an artist’s life without taking on responsibility to anyone but each other.

“Some of Jenkins’ humor pushes right to the edge of farce without tipping over, as when Richard justifiably blows up at a doctor’s unprofessional behavior, then realizes he’s overdoing it and making a spectacle of himself. (Nobody does righteous snits better than Giamatti.) Other times, the film digs into the minutia of marriage and family life with the surgical precision of Mike Leigh, capturing fleeting images and moments that sum up an experience. The personalty test that Sadie takes in order to be cleared as a surrogate includes statements which, viewed in tight close-up, seem nearly poetic in their strangeness (‘Evil spirits possess me at times.’ ‘I would like to become a singer.’). A quick iris-to-black as Rachel succumbs to anesthesia, followed by a blurry shot from her point-of-view as she wakes up and sees a package of animal crackers and a bottle of apple juice on a meal tray, sum up the dreamlike feeling of suspension that accrues when you spend a lot of time in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and operating rooms, with their blank walls and identically uniformed employees. (Hahn, who’s on a roll these days, is at the top of her game, handling Jenkins’ barbed dialogue and the story’s many reactive closeups with equal skill.)

“The dialogue, especially between Rachel and Richard, is just as astute. We see what drew them together (a shared love of creativity plus undeniable comic chemistry) as well as the despair that they hide from each other for fear of making a tense partnership unpleasant. Each sometimes feels that their failure to conceive is the other’s fault, and Jenkins weaves social messaging into their reasons for waiting, acknowledging it as a factor without telling us if she thinks they made good or bad decisions. Richard stings Rachel by suggesting that she’s assigning blame for their situation onto the mixed messages she received about family and career back in college. ‘You can’t blame second wave feminism for our ambivalence about having a kid!’ he groans. To the film’s credit, neither is portrayed as being entirely wrong.

“The movie also succeeds as a portrait of a particular urban lifestyle—creative people living beyond their means because they don’t want to give up youthful dreams of the big city—as well as the larger forces that conspire to make their existence precarious and unrealistic. The Lower East Side New York neighborhood where Rachel and Richard have lived for decades has become almost entirely gentrified (except for their block, which Sadie says is ‘very Serpico‘). The site of Richard’s old theater company is a bank branch. Condos are springing up everywhere, promising a tourist-like experience of a city that no longer exists.

“But of course, Richard and Rachel were probably in the first wave of bourgeois settlers back in the ’90s, and as such, they have to accept some blame for how things have changed. When Sadie, out for a walk with her possible future egg donors, spots a billboard advertising luxury apartments with the slogan ‘Live in Luxury, Party Like a Punk,’ she snarls, ‘It’s like an open invitation for assholes.’ The movie is aware that they’re also the assholes. When they visit Richard’s brother and her family in the suburbs, they’re seeing a likely future. If they leave the city, does it mean they surrendered? If they don’t conceive, does it mean all of that time and money was wasted?

“It’s becoming increasingly hard for films like this to have a big impact on audiences, in part because stories about recognizable, present-day adults of every social class have been largely driven from theaters and onto TV and streaming platforms. Anything that doesn’t involve special effects and some kind of world-ending threat is deemed ‘low stakes’ or ‘television’ and thus not worth leaving home to see. (This one is getting a hybrid release from Netflix, playing a small number of theaters while debuting online.) But when the story is told in as engaging and fair-minded a way as it is here by Jenkins—who’s as adept with lyrical images as she is with snappy dialogue, and allows us to laugh at the characters even as we feel for them—it’s as immersive as any blockbuster, sneakily so. This film is a reminder that the smallness of life can feel huge when we’re in the middle of it. A perfect final shot sums up everything Private Life has been telling us and showing us, while letting us imagine Rachel and Richard’s destiny for ourselves.”

OCTOBER 5: Trouble (dir. Theresa Rebeck) (DP: Christina Voros)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis:Trouble is a rollicking comedy about two siblings who stop at nothing to outwit one another. That fact that the dueling brother and sister in this case are middle- aged, but still feel a rivalry that most adults have long outgrown, makes theirs a particularly high-stakes conflict. Academy Award-winner Anjelica Huston stars as Maggie, a tough-as-nails widow who fights to hold onto the beautiful wooded farm in rural Vermont where she was raised and still lives, while Bill Pullman plays her ne’er-do-well brother, Ben, who plots to sell the land to developers right out from under Maggie. The film was written and directed by noted playwright and author Theresa Rebeck.”

OCTOBER 12 (in theaters & on VOD): After Everything (dirs. Hannah Marks and Joey Power) (DP: Sandra Valde-Hansen)The Hollywood Reporter review by Frank Scheck: “Depicting the highs and lows of a relationship marked by a possibly terminal cancer diagnosis, Hannah Marks and Joey Power’s romantic drama somehow manages to avoid clichés and oversentimentality. After Everything deals with two 23-year-olds, but it will likely ring true even for viewers whose twenties are a distant memory. Featuring terrific performances by its young leads, the film marks an auspicious feature debut for its writer-directors.

“The story begins with Elliot (Jeremy Allen White, Shameless) experiencing a strange pain in his groin during a one-night stand. He discovers that he’s suffering from a form of cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma, which has resulted in a tumor on his pelvic bone. Around the same time, while waiting for a subway train he encounters Mia (Maika Monroe, It Follows), a frequent customer at the sandwich shop where he works, and impulsively asks her out.

“The two are soon involved in a passionate relationship, with Mia being lovingly supportive of her new boyfriend as he’s undergoing physically and emotionally debilitating chemotherapy treatments. Rather than drive them apart, Elliot’s illness seems to deepen their relationship, and he impulsively proposes marriage. For a while, the aftermath of the ‘shotgun wedding,’ as Mia describes it to Elliot’s concerned parents, proves happy. But even as Elliot is given a clean bill of health after successful surgery, the two young people begin to realize that their relationship is falling apart.

“While the pic’s tone is generally serious, it never becomes maudlin despite the tear-jerking subject matter. It also includes some genuinely funny episodes, such as a fantasy sequence involving Elliot’s efforts to become aroused while attempting to bank his sperm should his cancer prevent him from siring children; the couple giddily cavorting after ingesting ecstasy (but not before Googling ‘What happens when you take MDMA and have cancer?’); and their attempts to recruit a female participant to fulfill Elliot’s dream of having a threesome.

“The Generation Z demographic will certainly relate to such things as the film’s depiction of modern dating rituals like Tinder; unfulfilling jobs; roommates who spend their time bingeing on true-crime documentaries; and Elliot’s dreams of designing a new app. What impresses, though, is how effectively After Everything taps into universal themes involving the difficulties of sustaining relationships. And the way in which we can sabotage our future in an instant is perfectly encapsulated in an angry encounter between Elliot and Mia in which he blurts out something that he’ll never be able to take back.

“The filmmakers have attracted a talented supporting ensemble for this indie effort, including Gina Gershon and Dean Winters as Mia’s mother and her new boyfriend, and Marisa Tomei as Elliot’s attentive oncologist. But it’s the hugely appealing White and Monroe who authoritatively carry the film, mining the material for all its pathos and humor and displaying the sort of chemistry more often aspired to than achieved in romantic films. They make it look easy, as do the talented filmmakers.”

OCTOBER 12 (streaming on Netflix): Feminists: What Were They Thinking? (dir. Johanna Demetrakas) (DP: Kristy Tully)RiverRun International Film Festival synopsis: “Feminism seems to be the scariest word in the English language, but not for those who experienced the game-changing awakening that was the Women’s Movement of the 1970s. Growing up in the 1950s and 60s meant not only second class citizenship legally, but second class human being-ship for women, not invited to the parties of medicine, art, law, education, science, or religion, except maybe as the secretary.

“In 1977, a book of photographs captured an awakening–women shedding cultural restrictions and embracing their full humanity. This documentary digs deep into the personal experiences of sexism and of liberation by revisiting those photos, those women and those times. The film follows this ever-evolving dialogue right into the 21st century, and takes aim at our current culture, vividly revealing the need for continued change.”

OCTOBER 12 (in theaters & streaming on Netflix): The Kindergarten Teacher (dir. Sara Colangelo)Los Angeles Times review by Justin Chang: “‘Anna is beautiful / beautiful enough for me.’ So begins the lovely and, yes, beautiful first poem we hear composed by Jimmy Roy (Parker Sevak), who, at first, resembles an ordinary 5-year-old but might in fact be a pint-sized literary prodigy. The only person who notices is his kindergarten teacher, Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who immediately takes him under her wing, eager to shield his talent from the indifference and banality of a world with no use for poetry.

“This is the story told in Sara Colangelo’s The Kindergarten Teacher, a deft and intelligent minor-key variation on a superb 2014 Israeli film of the same title. That earlier picture, written and directed by Nadav Lapid (Policeman), was a slow-to-boil psychological drama that built to a scalding indictment of the mindlessness and materialism that increasingly hold sway over contemporary life. Lapid’s social critique carried a particularly potent sting when directed at Israel, but it has been transplanted, seamlessly and with little dilution of impact, to the Staten Island neighborhood Lisa calls home.

“She lives there with a dependable husband (Michael Chernus) and two teenagers (Daisy Tahan and Sam Jules), who do things a lot of teenagers do — eat pizza, throw pool parties, stare at their phones — and who are sullen and non-communicative in ways that parents and children will instinctively recognize. But there is nothing reassuring about that recognition, and the movie regards these moments of estrangement and apathy less as normal phases of young adulthood than as troubling symptoms of a culture in decline.

“You can take or leave that thesis, but The Kindergarten Teacher moves too swiftly and absorbingly to brook much argument in the meantime. Lisa responds to her domestic discontentment by throwing herself into her teaching, determined to at least mold the more impressionable minds in her midst. After school, she seeks to ward off her own intellectual decay, and perhaps unlock talents that she’s never had a chance to explore, by attending a poetry-writing class. (At the risk of telegraphing a later plot twist a bit too blatantly, her teacher is played by Gael García Bernal.)

“The moment when Jimmy first recites his poem, pacing back and forth in the classroom as though lost in a fugue state, brings Lisa’s artistic aspirations and pedagogical instincts together. Lisa is struck by the poem’s elegant structure and subtle depth of feeling and also floored by the possibility that its young author — in all other respects a rowdy, adorable and utterly normal kid — might have an exceedingly rare gift.

“In cultivating that gift, Lisa initially seems to be doing an educator’s due diligence, as when she presses his somewhat flighty nanny, Becca (Rosa Salazar), to pay attention and write down any poems she hears him recite. She reaches out to Jimmy’s similarly neglectful dad (Ajay Naidu), who spends most of his time running a Manhattan bar, and also Jimmy’s uncle (Samrat Chakrabarti), a wordsmith who seems to have instilled a love of poetry in his nephew to begin with.

“What gives The Kindergarten Teacher its peculiar force is how quickly it acknowledges the darker side of Lisa’s nurturing impulse — and how successfully it ushers us into a strange complicity with her all the same. Colangelo, who made her feature debut with the 2014 drama Little Accidents, balances the story’s myriad conflicting tensions with admirable lucidity. That’s another way of saying that she keeps the camera steadily trained on Gyllenhaal, whose brilliantly discomfiting performance anchors every scene.

“Lisa is hardly the first schoolteacher to employ a measure of manipulation as an educational tactic. But there is something particularly ruthless about the way she wraps a steely disposition in a warm, cajoling smile, her eyes twinkling with affection even as they penetrate your every defense. For all the attention Lisa showers on Jimmy — waking him during naptime for private lessons, having him accompany her to a Manhattan poetry reading — she refuses to infantilize him or treat him as anything but the genius she believes him to be. She demands a level of commitment commensurate with her own.

“And Jimmy, played with remarkable self-possession by Sevak, responds to Lisa’s orders with a mix of obedience and confusion that feels like an implicit rebuke. On the surface, her increasingly desperate actions might seem reckless and deluded to the point of stupidity, but her motivations to the end remain irreducibly, gratifyingly complex. It’s hard not to suspect that Lisa might be driven in part by jealousy, rooted in a deep awareness of her own failures. It’s also hard not to discern an element of seduction, more psychological than sexual, in the way she tries to coax Jimmy’s talent into the light.

“But it may be hardest of all to completely dismiss Lisa’s convictions, or the sense that her behavior, extreme though it may be, is rooted in a completely accurate assessment of a morally and intellectually bankrupt society. The Kindergarten Teacher may offer a less audacious, more stylistically muted version of its predecessor, but by the time its quietly perfect final shot arrives, the movie has reached the same provocative conclusion. It’s not poetry, exactly, but it’s pretty shattering prose.”

OCTOBER 12: Over the Limit (dir. Marta Prus)Quad Cinema synopsis: “The title says it all in this mesmerizing, relentless documentary following Russian rhythmic gymnast Margarita Mamun’s grueling journey to the 2016 Olympics. Herself a former gymnast, Prus opts for a fly-on-the-wall approach, capturing not only Mamun’s remarkable physical feats (leaping, tumbling, and unfathomable balancing acts) but the evident psychological strain of the sport—and of her demanding coaches, whose idea of motivation consists of hurling abuse from the sidelines. Their best advice? ‘Find your inner harmony and touch up your eyebrows.'”

OCTOBER 12: Sadie (dir. Megan Griffiths)The Seattle Times review by Moira Macdonald: “‘Everybody’s got details,’ says an old man in the locally filmed drama Sadie, whittling away at a stick. “You gotta know how to carve them.’ Luckily, Seattle-based writer/director Megan Griffiths (The Night Stalker, Lucky Them, Eden) knows exactly how to carve her characters — with the help of a skilled cast of actors. Though it addresses big themes — children’s exposure to violence; opioid addiction; single parenting — Sadie is at its heart an intimate story, about a mother and daughter and a man who seems to come between them. But its honesty and power makes it feel large; you live among these characters in their weary trailer park, aching for them.

“Filmed in rain-soaked Everett and punctuated by the sound of a train whistle on its way to somewhere else, Sadie quickly introduces us to its title character (local actor Sophia Mitri Schloss, perfectly capturing the quicksilver ice of being 13) who lives with her mother, Rae (the always splendid Melanie Lynskey). Sadie idealizes her military father, who’s been overseas for years; the lonely Rae, who knows things about her marriage that her daughter doesn’t, is ready to move on. Along comes a stranger: Cyrus (John Gallagher Jr.), who attracts the eye of both Rae and her friend Carla (Danielle Brooks). Things get messy, and Sadie — her eyes narrowing as if they’re being sharpened to a point — thinks she knows how to solve the problem. But she’s 13, and of course she doesn’t.

“Much of the pleasure of Sadie is watching its beautifully carved details: Lynskey’s soft, hopeful line readings, suggesting a woman who’s known disappointment and yet still believes something better might come along; Brooks’ way of hinting at a world of pain behind Carla’s sassy-best-friend persona; the tired browns and grays of the characters’ homes, where the air feels damply cold and water perpetually drips from the gutters. But it’s at its most mesmerizing when fixed on Schloss’ unblinking gaze; a child at war with forces — and consequences — that she can’t yet understand.”

OCTOBER 12: Stella’s Last Weekend (dir. Polly Draper)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis: “Oliver (Alex Wolff) is a Queens high school senior who is madly in love with Violet (Paulina Singer), a fellow classmate who is the girl of his dreams. Oliver’s older brother, Jack (Nat Wolff), is not so lucky with his love life, having made a real connection with a girl several months earlier, who suddenly dropped him without any explanation. When Jack comes home from college for a special celebration of Stella, the family’s beloved but aging dog, he soon discovers that the girl who broke his heart is the very same Violet who has stolen Oliver’s heart. A series of comic complications ensue as the romantic rivalry between the brothers escalates.”

OCTOBER 12: Watergate (dir. Charles Ferguson) (DPs: Shana Hagan, Yuanchen Liu, Dennis Madden, Daphne Matziaraki, Morgan Schmidt-Feng)Cinema Village synopsis:Watergate tells, for the first time, the entire story of the Watergate scandal, from the first troubling signs in Richard Nixon’s presidency to Nixon’s resignation and beyond. (Surprisingly, despite many excellent books and documentaries, the story of the Watergate scandal has never before been told in a truly comprehensive way.). But crucially, the film also situates Watergate in the context of all the issues it raised – many of which, of course, now resonate powerfully with current events.”

OCTOBER 16 (on digital): The Devil We Know (dir. Stephanie Soechtig with co-dir. Jeremy Seifert)Variety‘s Sundance Film Festival review by Dennis Harvey: “The list of modern conveniences that will sooner or later take a toll on your — or somebody’s — health gets a lot longer with The Devil We Know. Stephanie Soechtig’s documentary exposes the apparently decades-long efforts by the DuPont corporation to deny the adverse effects of chemicals used in the manufacture of Teflon kitchenware, which they knew about at least as early as 1982. They’re still denying them, even as birth defects and other problems have increasingly surfaced among factory workers and nearby residents whose water has become polluted with industrial waste.

“This cogent, powerful indictment will most likely make its primary impact in small-screen exposure — though the Trumpian war on industrial and environmental regulation lends it a particularly urgent relevancy.

“What we first see is rough old video footage shot by Wilbur Tennant, a West Virginia farmer who’d sold part of his property to DuPont. They’d said they’d use the land only to dispose of ‘non-hazardous’ substances, but he soon suspected otherwise — particularly once dogs, wildlife and his entire livestock herd died. His belligerent citizen activism was later echoed by Joe Kiger, an area schoolteacher turned whistleblower who grew uneasy about the impact of chemicals in drinking water, then more so as his questions to authorities (including the Environmental Protection Agency) were brushed off with evasive PR blather.

“Their community of Parkersburg, WVa., is the epicenter of woes from commercial use of C8, a compound long used in the manufacturing that is the town’s economic engine. Its variants are deployed not just in creating non-stick cookware, but everything from microwave popcorn bags to waterproofed Patagonia sportswear. There’s little discussion here of the potential impact on everyday consumers, beyond the fact that C8 can now be found in the bloodstream of nearly every American, and that it has a very long shelf life in landfills.

“Those who worked directly with the chemicals at the plant were the first to suffer ill health effects, including cancer and birth defects that in the case of Bucky Bailey required more than 30 corrective surgeries when he was just a child. Eventually the problems began drifting downriver to other towns whose water was contaminated by the same factories’ pollution.

“Damning evidence is presented here that DuPont knew of C8’s impact but hid and denied that knowledge — then took over production of the hazardous substance from 3M when that company stopped making the stuff due to the research findings. A class-action suit finally staggered toward a heavily compromised win for residents. Yet even that seemed to offer little assurance for the future: DuPont and others remain free to slightly change C8’s chemical formula and continue producing it, as indeed they’ve done.

“Mixing footage of public hearings, news reports and corporate ads, plus input from scientists and activists, The Devil We Know is a riveting tale of long-term irresponsibility and injustice. It’s made particularly infuriating by the contrast between workers who placed all trust in their employers’ goodwill, and the government agencies that did very little to intervene when it became obvious those workers were being often fatally victimized by knowing corporations. As with numerous other environmentally focused docus of late, this one underlines the extent to which the EPA has its hands tied by Byzantine federal/state control limitations, as well as excessive influence from the very corporate interests it should be patrolling.

“Soechtig presents an unusually engrossing docu for this type of subject, with human interest always in the forefront despite the complex timeline of events, issues and information presented. The director, whose prior docs Under the Gun and Fed Up were also well-received exposés (of the gun lobby and obesity-promoting food industry, respectively), presides over an expert assembly that’s sharp in every department.”

OCTOBER 17: Charm City (dir. Marilyn Ness)IFC Center synopsis: – “On the streets of Baltimore, shooting is rampant, the murder rate is approaching an all-time high and the distrust of the police is at a fever pitch. With nerves frayed and neighborhoods in distress, dedicated community leaders, compassionate law-enforcement officers and a progressive young city councilman try to stem the epidemic of violence. Filmed over three tumultuous years covering the lead up to, and aftermath of, Freddie Gray’s death in police custody, CHARM CITY is an intimate cinema verité portrait of those surviving in, and fighting for, the vibrant city they call home. Directed by renowned documentary producer Marilyn Ness (Cameraperson; Trapped; E-Team).”

OCTOBER 19: Brewmaster (dir. Douglas Tirola) (DP: Emilie Jackson)Cinema Village synopsis:Brewmaster artfully captures the craftsmanship, passion and innovation within the beer industry.The story follows a young ambitious New York lawyer who struggles to chase his American dream of becoming a brewmaster and a Milwaukee based professional beer educator as he attempts to become a Master Cicerone. Helping tell the story of beer are some of the best-known personalities in the industry including Garrett Oliver, Jim Koch, Vaclav Berka, Ray Daniels, Charles Papazian and Randy Mosher. Brewmaster creates a cinematic portrait of beer, those who love it, those who make it and those who are hustling to make their mark.”

OCTOBER 19: Caniba (dirs./DPs: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel)Museum of the Moving Image synopsis: “This new film from the pioneering directors behind the landmark documentary Leviathan is a discomfitingly experiential portrait of unacceptable desires. On June 13, 1981, 32-year-old Sorbonne student Issei Sagawa was arrested in Paris after being caught discarding two suitcases containing the remains of his Dutch classmate, who he had murdered and begun to consume. Declared legally insane, he returned to Japan, where he has been a free man ever since. Though ostracized from society, Sagawa has made a living off his crime by writing novels, drawing manga, and appearing in salacious documentaries and sexploitation films. Meanwhile his brother, Jun Sagawa, harbors extreme impulses of his own. With Caniba, Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor—titans of Harvard’s celebrated Sensory Ethnography Lab—pursue a minimalist audiovisual strategy that is in some ways the inverse of the maximalist Leviathan, fostering unease and reflection through deceptively meandering conversation and subtly shifting focus. And as such Caniba is a singular cinematic experience: a horror movie by way of the documentary interview.”

OCTOBER 19: Can You Ever Forgive Me? (dir. Marielle Heller)New Yorker review by Richard Brody: “Melissa McCarthy has been in need of a substantial dramatic role for quite a while, and in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which opens on Friday, she gets one—and makes the most of it. But it’s clear, from the very first scene, that the movie, directed by Marielle Heller, is far more than just a showcase for McCarthy’s artistry. The film tells the story of the real-life writer and literary forger Lee Israel, and is based on Israel’s memoir of the same title. It is a fiercely composed, historically informed, and richly textured film, as insightful regarding the particularities of the protagonist as it is on the artistic life—and on the life of its times.

“The action begins in 1991 and is set in Manhattan. Lee, a proofreader working an overnight shift in a law firm and an object of her younger colleagues’ derision (which she repays in sarcasm), is fired on the spot, not for drinking on the job (which she’s brazenly doing) but for cursing out the young supervisor who reproaches her. Lee brusquely finishes her tumbler of Scotch, dumps the ice cubes into the garbage can under her desk, and puts the glass into her tote bag before leaving. The gestures have a pugnacious elegance; the text (from a script by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty) is rich in epigrammatic flair. Above all, Heller achieves an extraordinary, tense balance of moods and tones that yields sharp dramatic insight. Lee’s playful inventiveness and flamboyant attitudes do more than fuse with recklessly self-destructive behavior; they also incite and inspire it.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is set at the crossroads of money and art. Lee was once a biographer who appeared on the Times best-seller list, but she can no longer find a publisher for any of her projects of cultural history from a woman’s perspective. Her main plan, a biography of Fanny Brice—the comedian who was portrayed by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl—comes to naught. She’s never held a day job before, and her acerbic, cantankerous demeanor gets in the way of her keeping one now. In any case, as the movie makes clear, the research-heavy, travel-based work of nonfiction requires both time and money. The new, celebrity-heavy world of corporate-merger publishing has little room for her. No advances are forthcoming. Lee can’t pay her rent, nor can she pay the veterinarian to care for her aging cat. She even steals toilet paper (and other, more lavish commodities) from a publishing party. When she’s compelled to sell a prized possession—a letter Katharine Hepburn wrote her when she was working on a profile of the actress—a light bulb turns on in her mind.

“After finding, by chance, a letter from Brice between the pages of a library book, Lee steals it and tries to sell it. Learning that its value would be increased if its contents were spicier, she spices it up with a flourish of a P.S. that seems to emerge from her own mind-meld with her cherished subject. Lee quickly morphs from a biographer into impersonator, relying on the same skills that she used to enter into imaginative sympathy with the people she wrote about. She becomes, in effect, a writer of docufiction, setting up a cottage industry of fabricated letters from celebrities she ‘gets,’ including Marlene Dietrich, Noël Coward, Edna Ferber, and Dorothy Parker—writers whose identities are plotted on the dimensions of womanhood, gayness, Jewishness, sharp wit, and artistic talent. (The movie revels in the material specifics of her deceit, involving old manual typewriters, replicated letterheads, signatures that she forges by using an upturned TV set as a lightbox, and paper that she ages in her oven.)

“Lee is single, but is still in close mental proximity to her ex, Elaine (Anna Deavere Smith). She’s also back in touch with a former acquaintance, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), a gay man who’s H.I.V.-positive, homeless, free-spirited, defiant, and—like Lee herself—quietly and proudly desperate. As their friendship grows, he takes note of Lee’s sudden and unwarranted solvency and asks about it. ‘Can you keep a secret?’ she asks. ‘Who would I tell?’ he replies; ‘All my friends are dead.’ The devastation of the AIDS crisis is also at the center of Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Heller, pointedly and surely, creates a work of mourning for its victims and of gratitude for the community of activists who fought for rights, respect, and treatment—and cared for the stricken among them.

“The movie is sharply historically informed, down to its urban geography. The bar that Lee frequents, and where she meets Jack, for the first time by chance and later by design, is Julius’, a longtime gay bar in the West Village and the site, in 1966, of the Sip-In, a historic protest against the city’s anti-gay laws and the bar’s own discriminatory practices. It’s not expressly a story of activism; Jack is depicted as an apolitical hedonist (he also gets involved in Lee’s criminal scheme), but he, too, is in his way an artist (also a heedless and sometimes destructive one)—an artist of life, whose ardent vitality contrasts cruelly with his fate.

“The decimation of the gay community marches alongside the decimation of the city’s artistic culture. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a movie of endings, a mournful film, suffused with an air of doom, in which the sort of genteel literary poverty that kept Lee going can no longer be sustained. Even the core of her art, her caustically aphoristic brilliance, comes off as a defense mechanism, not merely against the usual buffeting winds of life but against prying and suspicion from an age when L.G.B.T. people were the subject of severe legal discrimination and social prejudice. The scintillating verbal inventiveness that’s essential to her art, and to her personal allure, is also an electrified fence that enforces privacy, even at the price of desperate solitude.

“Heller’s geographic specificity includes appealing glimpses of some of the borough’s most picturesque bookstores—happily, ones that survive to this day, such as Argosy, Westsider, the Housing Works Bookstore Café, and Logos. With their venerable charm (filmed lovingly by Heller, with incisive, nearly matte-seeming cinematography by Brandon Trost), they nonetheless have the fragile air of survivors of a series of storms—and Lee’s own fraudulent sales of fabricated memorabilia turn out to be among the threats that these businesses face.

“These sales, and the confidence game that she plays with dealers in order to make them, are dramatized in outrageously careful criminal detail—as well as in their personal implications, both for Lee and for the buyers. In particular, a woman named Anna (played by Dolly Wells with a tremulous grace), who admires Lee’s voice and bearing, falls further under her spell, with painful results. The entire cast performs at a perfect pitch of slightly heightened tension that lends their range of emotions—confrontational worldliness, brave-faced struggle, solitary pride—a striving pitch of urbane intensity. In particular, Grant, as Jack, seems to bear a vast history of pleasure and trouble with a breezy flair, and, as Lee’s agent, Jane Curtin delivers hard wisdom with an intellectual boxer’s devastating deftness.

“Above all, McCarthy infuses the role of Lee with many levels of imagination. McCarthy is one of the most verbally inventive actors of the time and, playing a person of learning, imagination, and experience, her verbal inventiveness is no mere comedic adornment but the core of the character’s identity, and she flaunts it with a pathos that suggests the essential doubleness of art, its element of gaudy artifice as well as of intimate self-revelation. The pivot of the action is Lee’s unwillingness to expose her own life and character to the scrutiny and criticism of readers, and the gap that her inhibition—one born of her fortress of privacy—makes between her artistic soul and her artistic voice.

“The movie never excuses or minimizes Lee’s crimes (which eventually include the theft and sale of authentic letters); yet it considers them in the paradoxical light of her own talent, which, she asserts, was revealed more definitively in those forgeries than in her prior avowed works. The confessional book itself, on which the movie was based—and in which Israel cites and discusses these fraudulent works of her authentic artistry—provides a fascinating nonfiction view of these fictions. But the movie adaptation reaches beyond its source to broaden its backdrop and evoke resonant depths of mood, context, history, and perspective. It’s one of the rare movies that give a cinematic identity to literary creation, that virtually bursts with the athletic pleasure of imagination. Heller’s images are simple and poised, lucid but weighty—they vibrate with the expressive force that they condense and contain.”

OCTOBER 19 (in theaters & on VOD): Change in the Air (dir. Dianne Dreyer)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Change in the AIr opens in a modest home on a quiet street. An old man, Walter Lemke (M. Emmet Walsh), skips breakfast with his wife, Margaret (Olympia Dukakis), walks outside, and steps in front of an oncoming car. Deliberately. Moody Burkhart (Aidan Quinn), the police officer who responds to the accident, inquires about the woman, Wren Miller (Rachel Brosnahan), who placed the emergency call, but when he knocks on Wren’s door, she hides.

“The following day, Jo Ann & Arnie Bayberry (Mary Beth Hurt and Peter Gerety) return from a bird-watching expedition. Their next-door neighbor, Donna (Macy Gray), tells them Mr. Lemke is in the hospital and that she’s found a new tenant to sublet her apartment: Wren. When Mr. Lemke returns home, Jo Ann sees him sitting by himself in his front yard. She drags her lawn chair down the street and sets up beside him – invading his space with the best of intentions. Walter never says a word; Jo Ann never stops talking.

“Meanwhile, Josh (Satya Bhabha), the local mailman, daily delivers a large bag of letters to Wren’s door. In the days that follow, Jo Ann’s vigil on the Lemke lawn expands along with her fascination with Wren. But now it’s not just Jo Ann who is intrigued.

“This story embraces the imperfections that make us human, offers a way to set ourselves free and asks us all to take a good, long look at the wild birds in the sky.”

OCTOBER 19: An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn (dir. Jim Hosking) (DP: Nanu Segal)Newsweek review by Andrew Whalen: “We are all more like characters in An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn than anyone is likely to admit. Following the tangled relations between a vanload of people in the lead up to a mysterious event at the Moorhouse Hotel, the evening with Beverly Luff Linn itself, director Jim Hosking’s follow-up to 2016’s The Greasy Strangler isn’t as fevered (he co-wrote this film with David Wike), but does cut closer to the childish heart of humanity.

Beverly Luff Linn doesn’t have the same defenses as The Greasy Strangler, which layered Riki-Oh ’s gorey plastic bodies, prosthetic penises and a strange, almost arthouse ending over its essentially puerile (in a good way!) appeal. Luff Linn opens in similar territory, with profoundly doltish characters working a business that seems unworkable, in this case a franchise coffee shop that mostly deals in carnival-cup cappuccinos that disgust customers. But Beverly Luff Linn never offers a retreat into anything as surreal as a grease-covered serial killer, instead sticking close to more familiar discomforts, beginning with store manager Shane Danger (Emile Hirsch) awkwardly firing his wife, Lulu Danger (Aubrey Plaza), according to corporate edict.

“Shane’s feelings of inadequacy lead him to rob Lulu’s brother Adjay’s vegan shop of its cash box, which Lulu quickly absconds with, hiding in the Moorhouse with inept hired muscle and wannabe drifter-adventurer Colin Keith Threadener (Jemaine Clement). As Colin pines for Lulu from across the gap between their twin beds, Lulu pursues her great lost love, in town for a special engagement, Beverly Luff Linn himself (Craig Robinson).

“At first, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn feels like it’s playing with pieces of melodrama, crashing absurd characters against each other and watching them tangle. Aubrey’s Lulu brings to every encounter a faux-aristocratic contempt, smoldering out from her mothy, estate sale wardrobe as she contemptuously holds Colin aloft. Shane waves a gun around and stalks Lulu, but is completely absent of menace, thanks in part to the blonde wig and Rita Hayworth sunglasses that make up his disguise. That all of the romantic subplots swirl around Luff Linn, who speaks entirely in grunts and growls, seems to highlight how An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn doesn’t care about the content of its characters’ torments.

“It’s not a notion Beverly Luff Linn is quick to counter, especially when so much of what’s fun and funny about it is pitched at the exact level of appeal of playing with your food. (Even better than the cheesy onion rings Colin scarfs are the hotel bar drinks, each of which come with one of those jumbo Tootsie Roll logs as a stirrer.) Characters call each other names like ‘big fat penis face,’ while Lulu self-importantly chides Colin for eating bar nuts by telling him ‘You know those might have poo on them, you don’t want to get poo in your mouth, do you?’

“But then a strange thing happens: their childishness begins to feel less like flippancy and more like raw pathos. Colin’s laborious story of how he got his name (something to do with an uncle and… teeth?) isn’t poignant in itself, but Luff Linn leaves Clement the room to breathe a tragic, hangdog energy into his character. Rodney Von Donkensteiger’s (U.K. comic actor Matt Berry, opening another front in his slow invasion of American comedy) overbearing protectiveness of Luff Linn begins to feel less like a joke and more like true romance (which pays off sweetly in an after credits sequence).

“The mechanisms of this drama continue to be juvenile, but begin to feel less like immaturity and more like a sympathetic guilelessness, instantly identifiable to anyone who’s felt the emptiness at the heart of adulting like a boss. When a character condescendingly orders, ‘The Earl Grey, I’m sure you haven’t heard of it,’ I could feel the barb reach back and burst my own embarrassed memories of performing sophistication.

“What the actual, magical evening with Beverly Luff Linn reveals I will not spoil, except to say I was surprised by its romantic earnestness. An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn is an odd combination of characters who talk like playground bullies and an almost mystic somberness, as if ‘Twin Peaks’ invaded Best in Show. But what’s most impressive is how much open emotion emerges from its eerie, fart-haunted world.”

OCTOBER 19: Galveston (dir. Mélanie Laurent)Film School Rejects’ SXSW review by Matthew Monagle: “Here’s to films about sad-sack professional killers and the sex workers they love. For decades now, Hollywood has been telling elegiac stories of people on the run from lives of violence. Over time, this narrative has become cinema’s answer to the jazz standard, a familiar conceit that gives its performers ample opportunity to show off their own individual style. Mélanie Laurent’s Galveston is one such example within the genre; while there’s a thread of familiarity throughout the movie, her steady hand and the powerful performances of her leads give Galveston its own alluring sense of self.

“Roy Cady (Ben Foster) is dying. A lifelong smoker, Cady has just been given a terminal diagnosis by his doctor, and what little life Cady has cobbled together in New Orleans seems suddenly unimportant in light of his illness. He doesn’t care, for example, that his employer (Beau Bridges) seems to have stolen his girlfriend out from underneath him, but his boss cares, quite a bit, and would like to speed up Cady’s exit from this world. That’s why Cady is suspicious when he is told to intimidate a local lawyer but not to bring a gun; in the inevitable firefight, Cady leaves behind three dead bodies and gains Rocky Arceneaux (Elle Fanning), a sex worker whose only real sin is that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“After the two manage to calm their nerves with a few shots of whiskey – ‘Cheer up. You’re alive. I’m buying.’ – Arceneaux and Cady head out west, stopping on the Louisiana border to pick up her little sister along the way. Before long, they find themselves in the poorest part of Galveston, Texas, not sure what to do next but knowing their time together is probably limited. With nothing to lose and not much time left among the living, Cady begins looking for ways to potentially set up Arceneaux and her sister when he’s gone.

“Few actors embody the threat of violence quite like Ben Foster. From his recent supporting roles in Hostiles and Hell or High Water – not to mention his off-Broadway stint as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire – Foster seems born to play the abuser, a man hellbent on punishing those around him for the injustices he feels he’s been offered by the world. This sometimes leads us to forget Foster’s nuance as an actor. Foster finds little moments of fragility amidst the bravado and outrage; in one scene, for example, he contemplates a cigarette before choosing to light it, making a clear decision to embrace his end when it occurs.

“And then there’s Elle Fanning. Those familiar with her work in The Neon Demon know that Fanning possesses uncanny depth for an actress her age. With Arceneaux, she convincingly moves between innocence, innocence lost, and a calculated innocence that she uses to earn the trust of those around her. Galveston is cruel to Arceneaux, as it is to most of its characters, but Fanning’s performance keeps her character from ever falling into cliche. To borrow a phrase from another story set in Texas, there is a part of herself that she keeps just for herself; she has power, even if it’s just in the tough decisions she makes to keep ends together.

Galveston also presents an authorial puzzle for those willing to do the work. Rody Cady is unquestionably a character born from the mind of author Nic Pizzolatto; abusive, drunk, and quietly self-destructing, Cady possesses many of the characteristics we recognize from True Detective, the series that catapulted Pizzolatto to stardom (and just as quickly became his downfall with a lackluster Season 2). But unlike the characters in that series, Cady is deprived his victimhood by the women around him. His ex-girlfriend and the manager of his motel both see through Cady’s facade, and Rocky’s relationship with Cady is given a degree of independence by Fanning’s powerful performance. It’s hard not to wonder where Pizzolatto ends and where Laurent begins in the narrative. Galveston will undoubtedly make for a fine dissertation on adaptation one day.

“And what of Galveston itself? Outside of the film’s ill-conceived framing device of an impending hurricane, Galveston’s story is well-matched to its coastal setting. This is a city that has been wiped away by countless storms, only to rebuild unevenly across economic lines; at times, Galveston feels more like a movie borrowing from The Florida Project than a traditional crime thriller. Laurent delves into the poorest parts of the city to shoot her film – one particular tracking shot is like a guided tour of economic anxiety – allowing Galveston a sense of location unique to many of its peers. If Galveston is indeed just another hoary standard, then it proves more about the talent of the performer than the quality of the song. No noir can truly disappoint when you’ve got East Texas on your side.”

OCTOBER 19 (NYC), OCTOBER 24 (LA): On Her Shoulders (dir./DP: Alexandria Bombach)RogerEbert.com review by Nell Minow: “Four years ago, Nadia Murad Basee Taha was a teenager living in a Yazidi farm community in the Sinjar district of Iraq when ISIL took over the town, murdered 600 people, and captured the women and girls as sex slaves. She escaped three months later and has spent most of the time since speaking out on what happened to her and her people. This month, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This award-winning documentary tells her story.

Director Alexandria Bombach understands that there are two stories here. First there is the inspiring story of a young woman who had no ambitions of becoming a world figure but who overcame unthinkable loss and trauma by devoting herself to helping others. Then there is the story of a young woman who is forced to relive her most painful experience over and over and who is constantly bombarded by the overwhelming needs of others, from the photo-op sympathy of politicians and journalists to the heartbreak of her surviving community, most still living in refugee camps, who sob in her arms and beg her to get them some help.

Mostly, Bombach just lets the camera sit quietly as Murad goes through her exhausting schedule of meetings, media appearances, and book signings. She captures some telling images: a refugee lowering his fishing line into the ocean through a cracked panel in the fence around the camp, Murad touching a heavy chain around a locked gate, Murad’s comment on seeing a school marching band practice, ‘If this were in Iraq, someone would blow himself up.’ She gazes into a beauty salon mirror as her hair is wrapped around a curling iron. In one of her appearances before a UN assembly, we will learn something about what her long hair means to her.

Murad wants the world to hear her story and she is focused on a particular goal. She wants to be on the agenda of the meeting of world leaders in New York, to ask them to declare what happened to her people an official genocide and to give them justice. The process for getting the opportunity to speak to the assembly of Presidents and Prime Ministers is a daunting one. Early in the film she is preparing for what amounts to an audition. She will speak to a committee at the United Nations, and if she passes muster, she can move up to the next level.

“The time limit is strict. Her rehearsal for the initial presentation is 50 seconds over time so she has to figure out what to cut. If she takes out too much detail, the plea for help will have no weight. If she takes out the plea, she will leave without presenting a challenge to be met. When she has to shorten the speech for the final version, she eliminates the call to the world leaders to imagine what it would be like to be enslaved by ISIS because ‘What’s the benefit of asking them to imagine?’

“The film’s most affecting moments are when Murad speaks directly to the camera. She says that the only way she can deal with what she has suffered is to devote herself to helping the other girls who suffered, too, but do not have the opportunity to bring their stories to the world. She says she feels worthless, and will always feel that way until her people get justice.

She was content in her home in Sinjar, she tells us, doing chores, tending sheep, spending time with family, and hoping she could become a hairdresser, a place ‘where women and girls would see themselves as special.’ She wishes that people would know her as an excellent seamstress or athlete, not as a victim of ISIS terrorism.

It is at best bittersweet when she is named a goodwill ambassador by the UN. Her title carries as much tragedy as honor: Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. As Murad makes clear in her three minutes, there is no dignity without justice. There is only one border, she tells the presidents and prime ministers, ‘the border of humanity.’ We see this movie to learn who the young Nobel Peace Prize winner is, but in the end, it is about her challenging us to learn who we are.

OCTOBER 19: The Waldheim Waltz (dir. Ruth Beckermann)Metrograph synopsis: “When former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim ran for the presidency of Austria in 1986, he was suddenly haunted by the re-emergence of specters from his Nazi past, vehemently and disingenuously denied. Using archival material and her own vintage video footage of anti-Waldheim rallies which show anti-Semitism alive and well in the Europe of the mid-‘80s, Ruth Beckermann narrates this scintillating film, in which the combination of bald-faced lying by public figures, anti-media animus, and populist bully tactics speak all too clearly to our present moment.”

OCTOBER 19: What They Had (dir. Elizabeth Chomko)Vulture’s Sundance Film Festival review by David Edelstein: “Introducing her exquisite debut feature, What They Had, at Sundance, the writer-director Elizabeth Chomko addressed the movie’s initiating event — a woman with Alzheimer’s reaching the last-but-one stage, number six — only obliquely. Chomko painted a larger picture.

“‘Memory,’ she said, ‘is a gift we’re given. I don’t want to take it for granted.’ And so, in the film, the camera occasionally lingers on photos and home movies of Ruth (Blythe Danner) and her husband, Bert (Robert Forster), as they were in their 20s and 30s; and Ruth is tasked to carry a picture in a locket that can remind her, fleetingly, who the man across the table from her is.

“Before I get too lachrymose, I should mention that the movie has a lot of great laughs: The characters speak their minds and then some. The main couple isn’t the old one but a pair of middle-aged siblings, Bridget (Hilary Swank), and Nicky (Michael Shannon), who call each names like ‘turkey’ and ‘dingle-fairy’ and whose conversations often end in shouting matches. Bridget has flown in from Los Angeles to take some of the burden off Nicky and has brought her daughter, Emma (Taissa Farmiga), who’s been thrown out of her college dorm for drinking and is almost as prickly as her uncle. Nicky is being eaten alive by multiple stressors. He has poured all his money into a high-toned bar that his father has never deigned to visit. And he feels that he alone bears the responsibility for his mother’s well-being. He’s furious that Bert won’t put her in a facility for people with dementia, even after she has wandered into the snow in a nightgown and boarded a train. Bert is a stubborn cuss.

“Actually, ‘cuss’ is the exact wrong word. A devout Catholic, Bert abhors his kids’ swearing and believes it’s his duty is to care for his wife until the bitter end. Also, he adores her. The subtext (and Über-text) of What They Had is the impact of such an overbearing father on his children’s self-esteem. Bert compelled (impelled, bullied) Bridget to marry an up-and-comer she didn’t love and now can barely stand. (Seen very briefly and played by Josh Lucas, the husband seems a nice enough fellow but dull.) Bert also insists on belittling Nicky — a bar owner — by calling him a bartender. The crux of Nicky and Bridget’s arguments is that she has power of attorney over her parents but won’t stand up to them. Nicky hectors her, she squirms, Nicky hectors her, she squirms, and nothing happens.

“Because nothing happens for a while doesn’t mean What They Had droops. Swank manages the difficult task of looking powerfully indecisive — i.e., animating her inaction, making you feel her inner struggle. Shannon I can’t begin to praise enough. Only last week, in a review of the war movie 12 Strong, I said he remains on pace to act in more movies than anyone ever while also doing plays, and here he is again and as good as I’ve seen him. (A tall order: He was, believe it or not, a definitive Dr. Astrov in an intimate theater production of Uncle Vanya a few years back.) His Nicky is primed to jump at his family’s criticisms, which means he seizes on those times when he can criticize back. Nicky is often hilariously rude and often just rude.

“Blythe Danner has the difficult task of responding to everything and registering almost nothing. She does it beautifully, with lyricism. Perhaps there’s something romanticized about her — forgive me — blitheness. I don’t know, not having observed enough people with Alzheimer’s. I do know that the way in which she switches on a dime from a nurturing mother (greeting every new person with ‘There’s my baby!’) to a little girl who wants to go home is heartbreaking. Forster, meanwhile, anchors the movie. Without yelling, his Bert has a bullying power — the kind that comes from utter faith in his own rationality (not to mention the Catholic Church).

“Chomko — a one-time actress and playwright — went through something similar with her own grandparents, to whom the film is dedicated. (They appear in a photograph, of course.) She does something in What They Had that I’ve never seen in this kind of film: The family laughs at some of Ruth’s screwball-illogical interjections. This didn’t offend me in the least: Laughter is a coping device, and Ruth — being largely oblivious — laughs with everyone else. Those moments are always double-edged, though. There’s a wonderful bit when Nicky solemnly informs Bridget that his mother hit on him and they both go into hysterics. But later, as the film inches towards its climax, Nicky tells that to his dad, and it’s the first time we see Bert speechless, unable to process what he’s hearing. There’s raw power in Chomko’s writing, but so much scrupulousness and craft that you feel safe when the time comes to weep.”

OCTOBER 26 (streaming on Netflix): Been So Long (dir. Tinge Krishnan) (DP: Catherine Derry)Screen Daily’s London Film Festival review by Nikki Baughan: “Seven years after her debut film Junkhearts screened at the London Film Festival, director Tinge Krishnan returns with Been So Long, set to bow on Netflix on October 26 but screening first as a Special Presentation at the same festival. Fortunately, this vibrant musical love story is a rather more upbeat prospect than her first work. As established in the colourful opening musical number, in which the historic markets of Camden are transformed into a joyous streetdance, Che Walker’s adaptation of his own 1998 play — reimagined as a stage musical in in 2009 — seems to paint London as a town of optimistic possibility. That, together with the rising star power of Michaela Coel (Channel 4’s ‘Chewing Gum’), should pull in numbers for the SVOD giant.

“On the surface, this is a fairly standard love-conquers-all narrative, complete with familiar beats; the excitement of initial chemistry gives way to doubts, mistakes are made, decisions are hard-fought and, eventually, fate finds its way. Been So Long is, however, given additional texture thanks to its black female focus. Working from Walker’s astute screenplay, Coel is excellent as determined single mother Simone, unwilling to admit her vulnerabilities – her desire to protect her disabled daughter both admirable and an obvious smokescreen for her own fears. Ronke Adekoluejo is a particular standout as her brash best friend Yvonne, a fiercely proud woman entirely in control of her own sexual identity, whose character arc also calls for some genuinely moving soul searching of her own.

“Simone has worked hard to create a safe bubble for herself and her young girl — ‘It’s me and you against the world’ is her constant refrain — but when she meets Raymond (Arinze Kene), recently out of prison and working to get back on his feet, their instant connection is like an emotional wrecking ball. While Yvonne encourages her to spread her wings — ‘Your vagina called me, and told me it’s dying,’ she admonishes — Simone finds herself locked in a battle between past mistakes and future happiness.

“Indeed, the entire cast, which also features George MacKay as a troubled young addict, shoulders the story with energy and personality; no mean feat when it also requires them to belt out Arthur Darvill’s original songs (rearranged for the screen by music producer and score composer Christopher Nicholas Bangs) and carry out some intricate choreography. While all are confidently handled by Krishnan, some of these moments work better than others — Yvonne’s ‘I Want A Fella’ is a raucous, feminist highlight, while Raymond’s bar seduction song is, perhaps intentionally, rather more awkward.

“Crucially, underneath the music and the soft-focus romance Been So Long makes some poignant observations about community, family and the importance of connection. Most obviously, that plays out in Simone’s personal experiences; that her own father left her mother, and her daughter’s father also walked out, has clearly shaped the cautious, independent woman she is today. It’s also important that, even as she falls in love with Raymond, it’s Simone’s relationship with her daughter and Yvonne that are the strongest in the film, and the ones she works hardest to maintain.

“In a wider sense, Been So Long also highlights how traditional social structures are being eroded. ‘People don’t want inclusivity, they want exclusivity,’ says the owner of a new local bar and, as cinematographer Catherine Derry lingers on the fading facades and shuttered buildings of Camden, it’s a reminder of how gentrification is redrawing the lines of community there. But, as her camera drinks in the stunning London skyline, or vivid sequences of people from all walks of life dancing in unison, it’s also clear that the film’s message is rather more optimistic. If we’re open to new experiences, and new people, we can still find our place.”

OCTOBER 26: The Long Shadow (dir. Frances Causey with co-dir. Maureen Gosling)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Of all the divisions in America, none is as insidious and destructive as racism. In this powerful documentary, the filmmakers, both privileged daughters of the South, who were haunted by their families slave owning pasts, passionately seek the hidden truth and the untold stories of how America—guided by the South’s powerful political influence—steadily, deliberately and at times secretly, established white privilege in our institutions, laws, culture and economy.

“William Faulkner once said, ‘The past is never dead. The past is not even past.’ And this echoes one scholar’s warning in the film: ‘We’re still fighting the Civil War, and the South is winning.’ Anti-black racism has survived like ‘an infection,’ rigging the game against African-Americans and denying them full access to the American dream.

“By telling individual stories—of free, enterprising blacks in Canada; of a modern, racially motivated shooting—the filmmakers movingly personalize the costs and the stakes of our continued inaction. The Long Shadow presents a startling, unrecognized history that provides much needed context when considering the major issues impacting black/white relations in the United States today.

“Finally, The Long Shadow is a masterful film that captures the disturbing story of the enduring human cost of prejudice and ignorance in the US that continues to cast a long shadow over our national identity and values and ultimately, our celebrated democracy.”

OCTOBER 26 (in theaters & streaming on Netflix): Shirkers (dir. Sandi Tan) (DP: Iris Ng)IndieWire’s Sundance Film Festival review by Eric Kohn:Shirkers is a documentary about the production of an uncompleted movie, but it doubles as an upgraded version of the missing project itself. As a punk teen in early-nineties Singapore, Sandi Tan wrote a feminist slasher movie for the ages, an exploitation road movie designed to ruminate on the energy of youth, creativity, and alienation. The director, a much older American high school instructor with dubious motives, stole the film canisters for unknown reasons and vanished into the mist; two decades later, Tan has completed a fascinating personal look at her quest to uncover his motives, resurrecting the significance of her original intentions in the process.

“Tan’s actual debut, Shirkers takes its title from her earlier effort, an adorably deranged slasher movie in which she starred as a bored young woman killing men to pass the time. Though her old pals celebrate its relevance to Singapore’s minuscule film community at the time, Tan — whose voiceover, hand-scrawled credits and substantial archival materials guide the narrative — sees it more as representative of her artistic awakening. As her older mentor’s greed and envy leads to tragic circumstances, Shirkers becomes a paean to the pivotal moment when the idealism of young adulthood faces a harsh reality check.

“With her best pals Jasmine Ng (later a filmmaker in her own right with 1999’s Eating Air) and Sophie Siddique, both of whom appear in Shirkers as their adult selves, Tan found an outlet from her drab surroundings through the subversive discoveries of loud music, Jim Jarmusch movies and underground zines. With a wondrous score underlining this dynamic period in her life, Tan reflects on what it meant to live on a small island nation and uncover the prospects of escapism through storytelling: ‘I had the idea that you found freedom with worlds inside your head.’

“Enter Georges Cardona, an assertive fortysomething who takes an interest in fostering his students’ enthusiasm for film history, even as his tactics seem questionable in retrospect. Far more than a classroom instructive, Cardona takes Sandi and her friends around for late-night drives, as old VHS footage documents their joy rides through empty roads as if they’ve broken into the set of Trash Humpers. Cardona may be crossing boundaries with his students, but they’re just thrilled to break all the rules.

“At first, he’s Tan’s key to realizing the creative utopia in her head, as the pair travels America together before she starts college in London. Then she writes the screenplay for Shirkers, and Cardona gives her the confidence to bring it to life. The production becomes a communal affair, but Cardona lords over it with a destructive air that only worsens as time goes on; he seems to consciously slow the production’s progress before stealing the end result, presumably obstructing Tan’s success as a twisted means of spreading his own failures to feel less alone in the world.

Shirkers didn’t vanish forever because its footage becomes the backbone of Tan’s documentary. The filmmaker finally scored the footage decades later, and in the process, learned more about Cardona’s deranged track record. The root of his motives is ultimately less revelatory than the way the movie uses it to explore the fragile nature of artistic desire and what can happen when it’s left unsatisfied. Cardona may have succeeded at spreading his malady, but Tan’s innovative diaristic project means that she gets the last word.

Shirkers has the handmade delicacy of a scrapbook come to life, blending ample footage from the original production with candid modern-day interviews and photography. Equal parts travelogue and archival rescue mission, the ensuing drama becomes a microcosm of broader themes. While the interest surrounding Tan’s project speaks to the limited field of Singapore’s film industry, her initial passion as a young cinephile reflects the state of a country capable of absorbing Western culture without cementing a cultural revolution of its own.

“Having established such potent themes and an intriguing central mystery, Shirkers falls short of a satisfying solution by its final third. Tan seems hesitant to reach firm answers about Cardona’s story, or the root of his obsession with her in the first place. Fortunately, those questions mainly serve as a conduit to discussions about her passion for the project.

“Whether it was a botched masterpiece or simply an idealistic young woman’s first stab at finding her creative voice, Tan can’t say. After shifting careers from production to criticism before finding her way back again, she has produced a remarkable statement on the formation of a creative identity across many years and life experiences. Whatever the original intentions of Shirkers, some two decades years later, she found out a way to complete it on her own terms.”

OCTOBER 26: Viper Club (dir. Maryam Keshavarz)The Landmark at 57 West synopsis: “ER nurse Helen Sterling (Susan Sarandon) struggles to free her grown son, a journalist captured by terrorists in the Middle East. After hitting walls with the FBI and State agencies, she discovers a clandestine community of journalists, advocates, and philanthropists who might be able to help. Co-starring Matt Bomer, Lola Kirke, Julian Morris, Sheila Vand, Adepero Oduye and Edie Falco. Directed and co-written by Maryam Keshavarz (Circumstance).

OCTOBER 26: Weed the People (dir. Abby Epstein) (DPs: Paulo Netto, Richard Pearce and Jenna Rosher)Film Journal International review by Gary M. Kramer:Weed the People is director Abby Epstein’s effective exploration into the way cannabis oil is being used as an alternative medicine for kids battling cancer. The film introduces several patients, from Sophie Ryan, a baby with a brain tumor, to AJ Kephart, a teenager with stage 4 bone cancer, to show how they are responding to doses of cannabis oil—often in conjunction with chemotherapy. The results, as the film shows, are nothing short of miraculous.

“The stories are all heartfelt. Epstein wants Weed the People to provide folks with hope. It may jerk tears when one subject encounters a setback, or another patient loses their battle with cancer, but there will also be tears of joy with the film’s multiple success stories.

“A significant part of the documentary is devoted to questioning the dearth of research for medical marijuana in the U.S. and the government’s lack of support for the viability of cannabis oil’s medicinal properties. (The DEA declined loosening restrictions on medical marijuana.) Because marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, it is not tested for its healing properties—despite its use a century ago, before weed was criminalized. Moreover, scientists in Israel and Spain are making great progress in showing how cannabis is killing cancer cells. THC is shown for reducing tumor growth and metasticization.

“As such, individuals who believe in the healing properties of marijuana are on the front lines of this battle, and Weed the People showcases the important and groundbreaking work they are doing in the field. Dr. Bonni Goldstein, a cannabis physician, counsels patients and provides support for families like the Petersons, who have to move from Chicago to California to be eligible for medical marijuana.

“Likewise, Mara Gordon, co-founder of Aunt Zelda’s Oil, creates THC and CBD oils that are given to her patients to kill cancer cells in exchange for collecting their data (to determine efficacy). Her efforts are altruistic; she makes her oils in her kitchen, and charges families for the source plant but absorbs her overhead costs. Mara claims she doesn’t have medical training, but she does have experience, and her skills and care provide invaluable support for her patients and their families. Weed the People generates some drama when Tracy, the mother of a patient Mara is treating, becomes a ‘momcologist,’ and starts her product line, CannaKids. Tracy stopped using Mara’s more expensive products and used the knowledge she gained from working with Mara to her own ends.

“The ethical, legal and financial aspects of this burgeoning industry are indirectly addressed by Epstein’s film. There are some discussions of the expense, and Jim von Harz raises money through a fund to help supply cannabis oil for his daughter’s ongoing treatment. One mom, Angela Smith, is given an oil that is determined to contain rubbing alcohol, suggesting that there are hucksters out there offering faulty products. Moreover, when the Peterson family return to Chicago, ‘angel donors’ illegally send cannabis shipments to continue their son’s treatment. These are all fascinating if underexplored topics that could easily support another film on the subject of medical marijuana.

“But the broad approach and focus on the families and practitioners here is not a major drawback. Although Weed the People is one-sided—in that it does not give a voice to opponents of medical marijuana—this seems like a deliberate decision. Epstein is using the impassioned testimonies of parents to makes the film’s salient points.

“Several parents saw cannabis oil therapy as a last resort—because they were willing to try anything to save their children. In doing so, they become the treatment’s greatest advocates. As mothers like Tracy and Angela are amazed by the noticeable changes in their kids’ health, viewers, too, cannot help but be moved by the good news they receive and the support they get from their kids’ oncologists. It is gratifying to see footage of Angela’s son Chico, who suffers from a soft tissue cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma, lying listlessly on the couch in early scenes riding a bike by the film’s end. When Chico wants to get a grow kit for his 14th birthday, it is both provocative and oddly satisfying.

Weed the People makes a convincing case for the progress and advances most of the kids profiled here experience. The film wears its bias proudly, as it wants to foment change and save lives. That message comes across clearly here, even if some folks may remain skeptical.”

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: September 2018


Cinematographer Anka Malatynska and director/screenwriter Clare Niederpruem on the set of Little Women, 2017. (Photo: IMDb)

Here are twenty-five new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this September, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.


SEPTEMBER 7 (in theaters & on VOD): Alright Now (dir. Jamie Adams) (DP: Bet Rourich)Edinburgh International Film Festival synopsis:Cobie Smulders (‘How I Met Your Mother’) is on raucous and funny form in this British comedy, playing Joanne, lead singer of once-popular 1990s Britpop band The Filthy Dukes. After a drunken night out with her friend Sara (Jessica Hynes), Joanne finds she mistakenly enrolled in university. Determined to give the young students a run for their money as a party animal, she finds they aren’t interested in rock ’n’ roll. However, love and new beginnings might be on the cards for rocker Joanne.


SEPTEMBER 7 (streaming on Netflix): City of Joy (dir. Madeleine Gavin) (DPs: Taylor Krauss and Lisa Rinzler)Synopsis from the film’s official website:The film tells the story of the first class of women at City of Joy, and chronicles the process by which such a revolutionary place came to be, from its origins with the women survivors themselves, to the opening of the center’s doors.  Directed by first- time director, Madeleine Gavin, the film provides a glimpse into the lives of the women the center serves, and the unlikely friendship that develops when a devout Congolese doctor, Dr. Denis Mukwege (2016 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize), radical playwright and activist, Eve Ensler (Tony Award winning playwright of The Vagina Monologues) and a charismatic Congolese human rights activist, Christine Schuler Deschryver (Director of the City of Joy), join forces to create this safe haven in the middle of violence-torn Eastern Congo.”


SEPTEMBER 7: Hal (dir. Amy Scott)IFC Center synopsis:Hal is a long-overdue feature length documentary film celebrating the life and work of director Hal Ashby, set against a backdrop of a rapidly changing America, and an even more dramatic shift in filmmaking. While Ashby was once the toast of ‘New Hollywood’ his rise and fall became an archetypal story of art versus industry.

“Director Hal Ashby’s singular genius led to an unprecedented string of Oscar-winning films in the 1970s. His legacy is undeniable — Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home, and Being There and yet the obsessive and uncompromising nature that brought us these films became his downfall. On camera interviews with Oscar-winning actors Lee Grant, Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Louis Gossett Jr, Jeff Bridges and more recall how they were empowered by Ashby and granted collaborative freedom. Contemporary directors including Alexander Payne, Judd Apatow, Lisa Cholodenko, and David O. Russell attest to the quiet but powerful influence Ashby has had on their own filmmaking. Behind the camera colleagues Norman Jewison, Robert Towne, Haskell Wexler, and Pablo Ferro stand witness to Ashby’s brilliance as a filmmaker and the forces that led to his undoing. While on the outside Ashby embodied a quintessential peaceful vibe, internally he was dealing with deeper issues that he then transformed into the main themes of his work. Out of his anti-authoritarian inclinations leftover from a troubled childhood emerged a filmmaker dedicated to making prescient films that challenged racial stereotypes and gentrification; examined military authority; celebrated love that knows no color, age or race; explored sexual politics during a time of national crisis; championed a socialist folk singer; illuminated the plight of veterans and the cost of war; and revealed the dark underbelly of corporate control of American politics.

“In the 1980s, with the advent of the film franchise came a major shift in the Hollywood business model. While contemporaries Coppola, Scorsese and Spielberg rose to stardom riding the blockbuster wave, Ashby released a perplexing series of flops and disasters. The industry began to dismiss his brilliance amid rumors of drug addiction and cost overruns. His profound humanity, ability with actors, and genius in the editing room went from an Oscar-winning formula to a perceived liability. The latitude that directors were given in the 1970s was dissolved to make way for a different era in filmmaking, one that did not entertain Ashby’s process-oriented methods.

Hal explores the complex balance of art and commerce, the passions that drive an artist to create, and what this one artist was willing to sacrifice for his work. Hal compels us to re-examine why we make films, reminds us of what film can be, that it has a power to move and transform us.”


SEPTEMBER 7: The Hows of Us (dir. Cathy Garcia-Molina)Cosmo Honest Review synopsis: “George (Kathryn Bernardo) and Primo (Daniel Padilla) are schoolmates who fall in love. She’s preparing to get into medical school and he’s a musician waiting for his band to hit it big. Together, in a house they inherited from George’s grand aunt, they dream of great success and promise to support each other no matter what.

“But what happens when the dream of success doesn’t come for one of them? Primo doesn’t get the big break he’s been working for and turns into a difficult and arrogant artist who can’t even help with the bills. Faithful George stays true to her promise to support Primo through it all.

“That is until she reaches her breaking point and gives up. Dejected, Primo walks out and does not look back.

“Years later, he comes back a changed man. Can she still give him a second chance?”


SEPTEMBER 7 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 14 (LA): I Am Not a Witch (dir. Rungano Nyoni)The Guardian review by Mark Kermode: “In a remote Zambian village, a nine-year-old girl (Margaret Mulubwa) is accused of being a witch and given a stark choice: to accept her supernatural branding and live a tethered life as a sorceress, or to cut her ties with local tradition and be transformed into a goat that may be killed and eaten for supper. Thus begins this bewilderingly strange yet terrifically sure-footed feature debut from writer-director Rungano Nyoni. Born in Zambia and part-raised in Wales, Nyoni first made international waves with such award-winning shorts as Mwansa the Great (2011) and Listen (2014). Now, this daringly satirical parable of magic and misogyny, superstition and social strictures confirms her promise as a film-maker of fiercely independent vision, with a bright future ahead.

“Unsurprisingly opting to embrace her supernatural status, the young heroine of I Am Not a Witch is sent to the local ‘witch camp,’ an enslaved tourist attraction. Here, the women offer a sense of community and protection to the all-but-silent newcomer, whom they name Shula (‘it means “to be uprooted”‘). But when government official Mr Banda (Henry BJ Phiri) declares that ‘you are my little witch now,’ a strange form of celebrity looms. Soon, Shula is being paraded around local courts and TV stations, dispensing divine justice and hawking magical eggs – all for the profit of her garrulous keeper. ‘What if she’s actually just a child?’ asks the presenter of the Smooth Talk chatshow, a question that is met with stony silence from her ‘state guardian.’

“Nyoni was apparently inspired by real-life reports of witchcraft accusations in Zambia, and her research took her to Ghana, where she became the first foreigner to sleep in one of the world’s oldest ‘witch camps.’ Here, she observed first hand the daily rituals of these women whose fates have been sealed by ‘nothing more than hearsay.’ Yet for all its factual grounding, I Am Not a Witch is also a work of fairytale invention, unravelling the threads of its quasi-mythical narrative with anarchic aplomb. In particular, the motif of women restrained from flight by vast lengths of white ribbon has a touch of Charles Perrault or the brothers Grimm – a magical-realist conceit that brilliantly dramatises the down-to-earth reality of the ties that bind.

“There’s a hint of the absurdist tragicomedy of Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster too, as Shula faces a Kafkaesque choice between enforced conformity and metamorphosis. Brilliantly, Nyoni keeps her audience wondering whether they’re meant (or allowed?) to laugh or cry at this insane predicament, juxtaposing scenes of poignant despair with sociopolitical existential slapstick. Early accusations of witchcraft have an almost Pythonesque quality, while a sequence in which a show trial is interrupted by a mobile phone is pure farce. Fans of Chilean surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky will warm to a streak of deadpan humour that is drier than the arid plains upon which Shula dances to summon the rain.

“Having worked monochrome miracles on Ciro Guerra’s Amazon odyssey Embrace of the Serpent, cinematographer David Gallego here conjures a kaleidoscope of arresting tableaux: lonely Shula listening through a blue horn to the distant laughter of schoolchildren carried on the wind; a huge orange truck with women tied to outstretched reels, like some mobile fairground ride; the open mouth of a giant head looming towards us, while a frightened child huddles within. These images are hauntingly composed and dreamily sustained, the length of the shots heightening comedy and tragedy alike, with heartbreaking results. Meanwhile, music cues swerve from Vivaldi to Estelle, keeping the audience on edge and uneasy.

“At the centre of it all is a group of nonprofessional players, led by young Margaret Mulubwa, who was discovered during a location recce in Luapula Province. And what a discovery she is! With a face that can transform from innocence to defiance in an instant, Mulubwa is a mesmerising screen presence, her stoical countenance broken occasionally by a radiant smile that lights up the landscape.

“As for Nyoni, her ability to blend cruel humour, pointed satire and empathetic anger to produce something touched by tragic transcendence is astonishing. In interviews, she has described watching Michael Haneke movies as ‘my film school’ (perhaps those white ribbons are a homage?). Yet she has also talked enthusiastically about her love of the witchy 1996 teen fantasy The Craft. With such wide-ranging influences, who knows what this remarkable film-maker will do next? Having been spellbound by her audacious first feature, I can’t wait to find out.”


SEPTEMBER 7: Kusama: Infinity (dir. Heather Lenz)Film Forum synopsis: “Yayoi Kusama is the top-selling female artist in the world, best known for her colorful polka dot- and pumpkin-themed designs and her massively popular mirrored Infinity Rooms. Her work has pushed boundaries that often alienated her from her peers and those in power in the art world. Kusama: Infinity shows the artist overcoming the odds to bring her radical artistic vision to the world stage – growing up in Japan during World War II, life in a dysfunctional family that discouraged her creative ambitions, sexism and racism in the art establishment, and mental illness in a culture where that was a particular stigma. Kusama has created a legacy of artwork that spans the disciplines of painting, sculpture, installation art, performance art, poetry, and novels. After six decades of work, people around the world are experiencing her Infinity Rooms in record numbers, and Kusama continues to create work every day.”


SEPTEMBER 7 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 14 (LA): Nelly (dir. Anne Émond) (DP: Josée Deshaies)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis: “A high-class prostitute by choice, Nelly Arcan’s colorful life is recreated in a multi-layered and stylish mix of make-believe and memoir, revealing Nelly’s alter egos: the neurotic writer, the vulnerable lover, the call girl and the star. Nelly shocked the literary world with her elegant phrasing and the lurid details of sex work in her autobiographical first novel, Whore, which became a critically acclaimed bestseller. Despite unprecedented success, Nelly’s remarkable life ended in tragedy.”


SEPTEMBER 14 (NYC/LA), SEPTEMBER 21 (wider release & on VOD): I Think We’re Alone Now (dir./DP: Reed Morano)Slash Film’s Sundance Film Festival review by Ben Pearson: “Is there anyone better at playing soulfully sad than Peter Dinklage? The ‘Game of Thrones’ star is front and center in I Think We’re Alone Now, a post-apocalyptic drama in which he plays the last man on Earth who discovers he’s not as alone as he thinks when a young woman (Elle Fanning) enters his life. Characters in similar stories might celebrate this miraculous opportunity for human connection, but Del (Dinklage) resents it – he actually prefers being by himself, even in such extreme circumstances. Like an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ extended to feature length, I Think We’re Alone Now wraps emotional exploration in a high concept premise. And like Rod Serling’s seminal sci-fi anthology series, this movie features a third-act twist – but this one almost torpedoes the entire story.

“This is the second film from director Reed Morano, the celebrated director of photography who broke out last year by establishing the visual style of Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ Here, Morano serves as both director and director of photography, and no surprise, her camera work is beautiful. But the director also captures an intimacy in the lead performances that gives the movie some much-needed life: since the cause of the apocalypse is never explained and frankly not much happens in this story, the audience is left to focus more on the actors than the plot. Luckily, Dinklage and Fanning are up to the task.

“Dinklage is solid as Del, an isolated man living in a New England town whose population has been wiped out. He spends his days in silence, methodically going through each house and retrieving batteries from remote controls and vibrators before burying the dead in a hill on the edge of town. But you get the sense that he’s doing this out of compulsion rather than any sense of respect – one of the film’s biggest themes is the idea of feeling lonely while being surrounded by others, and the way Del unceremoniously dumps each body into the ground makes it seem as if he’s almost happy to be rid of the people who overlooked or belittled him when they were alive. He’s certainly pleased with his life of isolation, fishing for food on the local lake and keeping up his duties as the town librarian by cataloguing books that he finds in dead people’s houses. He spends his nights watching movies on laptops, swapping each computer for a new one as its battery dies for the final time.

“But one night, his sleep is interrupted by a series of explosions: in the most gorgeous sequence in the movie, Del walks to the window and sees that a fireworks display has been set off across town. (Morano’s framing and the confusion on Dinklage’s face makes each explosion represent a different possibility for what may lie ahead.) That’s when Del meets Grace (Fanning), an energetic teenager who’s his polar opposite and who teaches him how to appreciate people. It’s a simple concept, but Morano spends a lot of time fleshing out their relationship and finding small moments that resonate: an emotionally wounded Del looking up at Grace, the two of them performing a small ritual for each new buried body, an argument over the lifespan of a goldfish, the sounds of a past life floating up from a photo album. It’s not without moments of humor, too: when Del tells Grace that batteries are the most important commodity the dead can offer, she jokes, ‘The necrophiliac in me would have to disagree.’

“But then that pesky twist comes along and nearly ruins all the good will the film has built up until that point. Without spoiling anything, the film’s final third raises an interesting thematic point – would you want to live in a world in which all negative emotions could be purged from your mind? – but it does so in such a rushed and unsatisfying fashion that the ending either needed to be reworked entirely or had another 20 minutes devoted to it to make it feel earned.

“Still, despite a premise that sounds overly familiar and a central relationship that could easily have tipped into eye-rolling territory, Morano, writer Mike Makowsky, and the movie’s lead actors have crafted a poignant and humanist showcase of growth and compassion. Quiet, reflective, and intimate, I Think We’re Alone Now is an exceptional exhibition for Dinklage and Fanning and a further illustration of the dynamic talent of filmmaker Reed Morano.”


SEPTEMBER 14 (streaming on Netflix): The Land of Steady Habits (dir. Nicole Holofcener)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis: “For 200 years, Connecticut has been called ‘the land of steady habits,’ initially for its political stability though richer ironies quickly emerged. By 2014, when Ted Thompson wrote the novel on which Nicole Holofcener’s new film is based, steady habits had become both a fair description and a caustic joke.

“Ben Mendelsohn plays Anders Hill, a middle-aged man who has divorced his wife, Helene (Edie Falco), and surrendered the comforts of affluent family life for… well, he’s not sure. Retired from work, freed from marriage, and largely abandoned by his adult son Preston (Thomas Mann), he seeks that liberating lightness he once had. But awkward dates prove unsatisfying, even with a woman as lively as Barbara (Connie Britton). Anders finds himself drifting towards adolescent adventures, trying to befriend his neighbour’s teenage son Charlie (Charlie Tahan), and joining in risk taking he should have outgrown decades ago. Played with flinty charm by Mendelsohn, best known as a character actor, Anders is the kind of man often found at the centre of films, novels, and plays. He is successful and idiosyncratic. His flaws somehow make him seem more attractive. But watch what Holofcener does with this character.

“Under the auspices of the woman who made such insightful social comedies as Enough Said, Please Give, Friends with Money, and Lovely & Amazing, Anders’s rakish masculinity wilts. As the film progresses, it turns a sharper gaze on its questing protagonist, revealing more about Anders than he might ever want you to see. Less funny but more penetrating than Holofcener’s comedies, The Land of Steady Habits emerges from a world similar to The Ice Storm‘s, where money won’t buy mindfulness, and a man’s grasp too often exceeds his reach.”


SEPTEMBER 14: Lost Child (dir. Ramaa Mosley)Cinema Village synopsis: “Fern (Leven Rambin), an army veteran, returns home in order to look for her brother, only to discover an abandoned boy lurking in the woods behind her childhood home. After taking in the boy, she searches for clues to his identity, and discovers the local folklore about a malevolent, life-draining spirit that comes in the form of a child; the Tatterdemalion.”


SEPTEMBER 14 (in theaters & on VOD): MDMA (dir. Angie Wang)Brainstorm Media synopsis: “Raised by her strict father in an urban neighborhood, Angie is accepted into a prestigious university in the early 1980s. The sudden jolt from hardship to privileged campus life proves to be a challenge. When her financial aid is cut, she uses her book and street smarts, along with the schools resources to synthesize the growing popular drug, Ecstasy. Angie becomes one of the west coast’s largest distributors of ‘X,’ cutting deals on campus and in posh nightclubs. Her dual life as the Asian ‘model minority’ coed and profit-driven drug dealer is further complicated by her desire to help Bree, a girl from one of the bay area’s most infamous ghettos who reminds her of her own dark past. Angie lives the high life until her recklessness instigates a sudden tragedy from which she may not recover.”


SEPTEMBER 14 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 21 (expanding nationwide): Science Fair (dirs. Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster)The Landmark at 57th Street synopsis: “Hailed by critics as ‘immensely likeable,’ ‘brilliant and quirky’ and an ‘ode to the teenage science geeks on whom our future depends,’ and winner of the audience award at Sundance and SXSW, National Geographic Documentary Films’ Science Fair follows nine high school students from around the globe as they navigate rivalries, setbacks and, of course, hormones, on their journey to compete at The International Science and Engineering Fair. As 1,700 of the smartest, quirkiest teens from 78 different countries face off, only one will be named Best in Fair. The film, from Fusion and Muck Media and directed by the DuPont Award-winning and Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaking team Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, offers a front seat to the victories, defeats and motivations of an incredible group of young men and women who are on a path to change their lives, and the world, through science.”


SEPTEMBER 14: Where Hands Touch (dir. Amma Asante)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Cameron Bailey: “Writer-director Amma Asante (Belle, United Kingdom) returns to the Festival with this complex story about a love so fierce it transcends the most terrible divides conceivable. The story of a biracial teen in Nazi Germany, Where Hands Touch offers a different sort of Holocaust narrative — one that’s been a long time coming.

“Rudesheim, the Rhineland, 1944. Lenya (Amandla Stenberg) has come of age during the chaos of war. Her mother (Abbie Cornish) has done her best to protect Lenya, but the racist credo of National Socialism has rendered her a pariah for the colour of her skin. Yet youthful ardour can bloom in the most unlikely places: Lenya is in love with Lutz (George MacKay), a young Nazi. Lutz toes the party line when it comes to antisemitism yet remains drawn to Lenya despite Nazi revulsion at the thought of a Black German.

“When that revulsion escalates to direct threat to her survival, Lenya and Lutz must face the seemingly inevitable outcome of their impossibly fraught romance.

“Asante has made an astonishingly bold and unnervingly timely film. Where Hands Touch foregrounds matters of the heart while prompting us to consider the slippery process of a nation’s radicalization. At the film’s core is Stenberg’s breathtaking performance. From her supporting role in The Hunger Games to her lead in The Hate U Give — also screening at the Festival — Stenberg communicates the myriad struggles of a girl becoming a woman with vulnerability and sophistication.”


SEPTEMBER 19: Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable (dir. Sasha Waters Freyer)Film Forum synopsis: “‘What is a photograph?’ Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) asks in his iconic, gravelly Bronx accent. Winogrand was a compulsive street photographer (although he hated that term), working for decades in NYC, then in Texas and California, to create a huge body of work (hundreds of thousands of images taken with his 35mm Leica) that comprise an encyclopedic portrait of America. During his lifetime he was celebrated (as a favorite of MoMA curator John Szarkowski) and reviled (especially for his book, Women Are Beautiful) and then more-or-less forgotten after his untimely death at age 56. Writes Jennifer Szalai in The New York Times: ‘(Winogrand) captured the fallout from the midcentury American moment – those few decades from the 1950s on, when placid, middle-class prosperity started to give way to something less affluent, more fragmented and harder to define.'”


SEPTEMBER 21: A Happening of Monumental Proportions (dir. Judy Greer) (DP: Alison Kelly)Cinema Village synopsis: “A series of touching comic tableaus – some raucous, some sad, some instantly identifiable – mark actress Judy Greer’s directorial debut. The nonstop comedy intertwines students, parents, and teachers, all trying to find their way through one rough day. The all-star cast finds Daniel, an account manager (Common) with a boring job gearing up for Career Day at his lovely daughter’s elementary school, while dealing with the fallout of an intra-office romance with his assistant (Jennifer Garner) and his nasty new boss (Bradley Whitford). The boss’s unfortunately nerdy son finds himself instantly entranced with Daniel’s daughter (Storm Reid), seeking advice from their school’s hip shop teacher (John Cho) and depressed music teacher (Anders Holm), without success. The teachers’ principal team – Allison Janney and Rob Riggle – spend their day trying to hide the school’s dead gardener from not only the staff, but also the students and their parents, who experience a Career Day they likely will never forget.”


SEPTEMBER 21: Love, Gilda (dir. Lisa D’Apolito)Variety’s Tribeca Film Festival review by Owen Gleiberman: “The great ‘Saturday Night Live’ performers have always been more than funny. They’re up there to make you laugh, of course, but it’s the way they make you laugh — the manic expressive rock-star shine of their personality, and how it channels their comedic spirit. (That’s something you hold onto long after the laugh is over.) And no one on ‘Saturday Night Live’ ever had a spirit that burned more brightly, or hilariously, than Gilda Radner.

“She poured her essence — her very being — into every character she created, and she did it effortlessly, without fuss. When she played Judy Miller, the hyperactive Brownie who made up insanely self-directed TV fantasies in her bedroom, Radner seemed to be channeling her inner child — but that, in a larger sense, is what she did in every sketch. She didn’t just create characters. She became them, and invited the audience to share in the euphoria she felt in submerging, and exposing, herself.

Love, Gilda, Lisa D’Apolito’s exuberant and moving documentary portrait of Gilda Radner, which opened this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, is a movie that captures the fascinating evolution and awesome range of Radner’s talent — the dozens of lovingly, crazily etched characters she did on ‘SNL’ (the dear old deaf crank Emily Litella, the head-cold nerd Lisa Loopner, the wildly cantankerous Roseanne Roseannadanna), and the way she hardly even needed to be playing a character; she could just be dancing with a hula hoop, and you felt the magic pull of her gift. In the early years, when Lorne Michaels had a two-and-a-half-minute space to fill that was too short for an official sketch, he would call on Radner to do a bit called ‘What Gilda Ate,’ in which she simply riffed on what she had to eat that day. Just standing there in front of the camera, with no props or characters to hide behind, she had the audience eating out of her hand.

“That may seem ironic in light of the revelations that would later come forth about her bulimia, but in fact, it’s not ironic at all. Radner was a sensualist who loved food; she also felt compelled, as a female celebrity of the late ’70s (and the first woman superstar of ‘Saturday Night Live’), to remain thin. The eating disorder that emerged from that conflict is captured, in Love, Gilda, with matter-of-fact honesty, but as serious as it was, it never shrouds Radner’s life force. Nothing does. The movie captures a woman who lived as if she never knew what was coming next. On stage, she went with the flow of her comic impulses, and off stage she went with the flow of her desire for bliss and comfort and salvation, and even with the flow of the cancer that killed her.

“Forty years later, her comedy looks more sublime than ever. As you watch Love, Gilda, though, it becomes clear that what made Gilda Radner special — and uproarious — was her spirit: open, smiling, generous, euphoric. She was that rare thing, a happy comedian (though, of course, she also had her demons), and Love, Gilda is a salute to the complex power of her happiness.

“The movie is a perfectly conventional documentary (chronological, full of the talking heads you’d expect — Lorne, Chevy, Laraine, etc.). Yet the reason that description doesn’t do it justice is that D’Apolito, working with the editors Anne Alvergue, David Cohen, and Kristen Nutile, has interpolated a range of still photographs of Radner, culled from throughout her life, into a mutating scrapbook that becomes a kind of visual psychodrama. That may sound like a version of what any decent documentary biography does, but the art of the form can come down to the precision of this photograph, employed at this moment, to express the subject’s shifting moods and circumstances. Love, Gilda is plain but beautifully crafted. It draws you close to Radner, presenting her rise through the world of ’70s comedy as a journey of discovery.

“The film pays due homage to her ’50s childhood — she was born in 1946 and grew up in an affluent Detroit family, idolizing Charlie Chapin and Lucille Ball, attached to the daddy who came home from his career as a hotel owner and watched her perform for hours. Even then, slipping into characters was what she did, not out of the usual comedian’s ‘insecurity’ but because it came as naturally to her as breathing. As a girl, she battled weight issues (she was put on dexedrine pills at 10), and she later dropped out of the University of Michigan to follow a Canadian sculptor she’d fallen in love with to Toronto. She wanted to be a homemaker.

“One of the charms of her career is that it all happened with a minimum of calculation. In Toronto, she stumbled into the cast of Godspell and dated Martin Short (at 22, four years her junior), which led her to Second City, which led to a phone call, out of the blue, from John Belushi, who was doing National Lampoon’s Lemmings and wanted her to be ‘the girl in the show.’ In 1973, this was called progress.

“Seventies comedy, especially stand-up, is often talked about as a noxious boys’ club, and God knows The National Lampoon was, but Second City had a far more gender-friendly vibe, and part of the beauty of the Radner mystique is that she possessed the gentle force and glow to casually defuse the sexism of the comedy world. She was accepted on her own terms, and when Lorne Michaels was getting ready to launch his late-night-TV live-comedy experiment, Gilda was the first one he cast.

“The celebrity came instantly, and she basked in it; it enhanced her glow. We see an extraordinary clip of the original cast members, all clammed up on ‘The Tomorrow Show,’ as Lorne Michaels — young, handsome, and dark-haired, but already a self-styled corporate mobster of late night — explains to Tom Snyder that he expects about two of them to last. (What a thing to say! In front of your cast members on national television!) Radner wasn’t fazed. Along with Chevy Chase, she was the first true star of ‘SNL,’ and it didn’t take long for the entire cast to become the Beatles of comedy. They were iconic; a generation grew obsessed with them.

Love, Gilda includes fascinating clips of Radner cavorting with Bill Murray on ‘The National Lampoon Radio Hour’; backstage glimpses of her ‘SNL’ writing partnership with Alan Zweibel; Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, and Melissa McCarthy giving impromptu readings of the journal she kept to the end; and an intimate panorama of her courtship with Gene Wilder. Their romance is quite touching (creatively, though, love really was blind: The one mistake Radner ever made in her career was costarring in her husband’s warmed-over Mel Brooksian duds, like Haunted Honeymoon). Her battle with ovarian cancer, which was first diagnosed in 1987, is long and brave, presented by the movie in all its everyday soul-shaping agony. For anyone to die as young as Gilda Radner did (she was 42) is tragic, but for a performer who gave this much to the world, with a spirit of such elation, to be cut down in this way seems beyond cruel. Yet by the end of Love, Gilda, you feel like you’ve seen a very full life.”


SEPTEMBER 21: Nappily Ever After (streaming on Netflix) (dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour)IndieWire article by Jenna Marotta: “Fifteen years ago, Real Women Have Curves director Patricia Cardoso almost made Nappily Ever After for Universal Pictures, with Halle Berry in the lead role. An adaptation of the bestselling first installment from Trisha R. Thomas’ eight-book series eventually found a home at Netflix. Berry’s onetime part went to Film Independent Spirit Award nominee Sanaa Lathan (Love & Basketball), also the project’s co-producer.

“As advertising executive Violet Jones — changed from Venus Johnston in the books — Lathan is a coiffure-conscious perfectionist who believes she’s engineered herself a happy ending. Yet life begins to capsize when her doctor beau presents her with a Chihuahua instead of a proposal, and she is taken off an important work account.

“Late one night, convinced she has nothing left to lose — and recalling her boyfriend’s criticism of ‘You never let your hair down’ — she shaves her head. The film’s tagline, naturally, is, ‘Let Yourself Grow.’

“Adam Brooks (Beloved) and first-time screenwriter Cee Marcellus penned the film, which co-stars Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) and Emmy winner Lynn Whitfield (The Josephine Baker Story) as Violet’s parents, plus ‘American Gods’ lead Ricky Whittle and Netflix veteran Lyriq Bent (‘She’s Gotta Have It’) as her suitors.

“BAFTA nominee Haifaa al-Mansour became the first Saudi woman to direct a feature film with Wadjda (2014); last year, Elle Fanning starred in her English-language debut, IFC Films’ Mary Shelley. Additional producers include Tracey Bing (Southside with You), Jared LeBoff (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), and Marc Platt (La La Land), who was attached to the film when it was in development at Universal.”


SEPTEMBER 21 (streaming on Netflix & in limited theatrical release): Quincy (dirs. Alan Hicks and Rashida Jones)Deadline article by Mike Fleming Jr.: “Netflix has acquired Quincy, the documentary about legendary composer/producer Quincy Jones that was directed by his daughter Rashida Jones and Alan Hicks. Netflix has set a global release for September 21, and will give the film a limited theatrical release as well. The film is produced by Paula DuPré Pesmen and executive produced by Jane Rosenthal and Berry Welsh from Tribeca Productions and Adam Fell from Quincy Jones Productions.

“The docu is an intimate look into the life of an icon who has been a force in music and pop culture for decades, transcending racial and cultural boundaries. He started as a trumpeter, pianist and arranger for bandleader Lionel Hampton, and right out of college was arranging songs for artists including Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa, and Ray Charles. He has been a mentor to artists from Michael Jackson to Lesley Gore, Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith and collaborated with the likes of Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Miles Davis and many others.

“Jones was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has Emmys, Grammys, Oscars and Tonys on his mantle. Actually he has won 27 Grammys, second most in history. He was producer and conductor of ‘We Are the World,’ still the best selling single of all time, and Jackson’s solo albums Off the Wall, Bad and Thriller, latter of which remains the best selling album ever. On the movie side, he co-produced Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple and won an Emmy for scoring the opening episode of the groundbreaking miniseries Roots.

“Jones is an inspiring man to speak with and is an accomplished storyteller, and opened up for the daughter he shares with his ex, the Mod Squad star Peggy Lipton.

“‘It’s rare that somebody who has lived as much life as my dad is still interested in growing and knowing the next generation,’ Rashida Jones said. ‘He is such a man of action and accomplishments, but we were so lucky to spend real time with him, to let him reflect on life and the larger picture. I feel honored to be able to share that with audiences all over the world.’

“Said co-director Hicks: ‘There is really no one like Quincy, the sheer breadth of his work alone is unparalleled, but the story of him as a man has never been comprehensively told. It was a privilege to have his trust, allowing us to capture intimate moments giving insight into the fabric of the man.’

“Lisa Nishimura, VP of Original Documentaries for Netflix called it ‘a rare opportunity to be able to present the definitive story of someone who has for over seven decades, not just influenced, but altered the course of culture.'”


SEPTEMBER 24 (HBO), SEPTEMBER 28 (limited theatrical release): Jane Fonda in Five Acts (dir. Susan Lacy)TheWrap’s Sundance Film Festival review by Alonso Duralde:Jane Fonda in Five Acts could easily have been a 10-hour miniseries; it would take at least two hours merely to go through each of her 50 or so film performances. As a second-generation star, an outspoken activist, an entrepreneur and feminist icon, Fonda almost seems like a living metaphor for the uneasy and constantly changing post-WWII era.

“If she didn’t actually exist, Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin would have had to make her up as a character in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. But she does exist, and she’s still here, and documentarian Susan Lacy (Spielberg) digs deep into Fonda’s life to create a film (for HBO) that’s an audio-visual supplement to the actress’ fascinating 2005 memoir (My Life So Far), a frank examination of Fonda’s personal evolution, and a celebration of her role in popular culture.

“It’s a story of highs and lows, successes and regrets; yes, Megyn Kelly, Fonda wishes she hadn’t had plastic surgery, noting that she loves ‘lived-in faces,’ like the one on her dear friend Vanessa Redgrave, after whom she named her oldest daughter. Her relationship with her daughter also counts as a regret, but it’s taken Fonda a lifetime to understand her own mother, and she hopes that it’s not too late to make up for her own mistakes.

“The first four acts of the title refer to the men who guided Fonda through most of her life: her father, Henry, an iconic screen presence in his own right; her first husband, French filmmaker Roger Vadim, who guided her through her Euro-sex kitten period (and it’s a delight to hear her trill part of the Barbarella theme song); her second, activist Tom Hayden, whom she met during her own agitation against the Vietnam War and for the rights of indigenous peoples; her third, billionaire Ted Turner. The final act belongs to Fonda herself, who left her final marriage when she realized she was finally ready to guide her own destiny.

“It’s a whirlwind trip through the Actors Studio, Paris, Hanoi, Beverly Hills, Three Mile Island, aerobics studios and Montana, among other stops, and we see the progression from a little girl who felt distanced from her parents (dad cheated, mom was diagnosed with what we now know as bipolar disorder), to a young ingénue who had chops but not confidence, to a vocal spokesperson for causes that had meaning for her.

“Fonda admits that during the early years of her activism, she was ‘starving and speedy,’ eating very little and taking Dexedrine to suppress her appetite. And even as a vocal feminist, she still spent much of her life craving validation from men.

“While Jane Fonda in Five Acts in no way acts as a substitution for the book, it does allow for other voices; we hear from Hayden and Turner, friend and producer Paula Weinstein, and Fonda’s son (with Hayden), Troy Garity, who supplies some of the film’s most hilarious and poignant observations on its subject.

“It was surprising to see, at Sundance no less, interviews with Robert Redford about his decades-long friendship and collaboration with Fonda, particularly since Weinstein calls him out at one point; according to her, it was Redford not fighting for Fonda to get the role in Legal Eagles over the younger, newer Debra Winger that made Fonda realize that her years as a big-screen leading lady were behind her.

“But Lacy and Fonda aren’t afraid to go to the uncomfortable places: We see footage of angry Americans who demanded exile (or execution) for Fonda after her visit to Hanoi during the Vietnam War, and Fonda herself admits that allowing herself to be photographed with an anti-aircraft gun was a huge mistake and her one regret of the trip.

“She’s also got a lot to be proud of: Besides her work as an actress and activist, she produced Coming Home and The China Syndrome and 9 to 5 to tell stories she felt were important, and it would be hard to find someone working in movies now who is similarly committed to marrying issues and entertainment. And at the age of 80, she’s still getting laughs (opposite Tomlin) on Netflix’s ‘Grace and Frankie’ and showing up at Standing Rock and other hot spots to loan her spotlight to causes that need them.

“The movie opens with makeup artists attaching Fonda’s false eyelashes before her appearance at a recent Golden Globes, and that scene lets us know that the film’s subject is going to let us in on pretty much everything. Hers is a lot of life to try to capture in one movie, but Jane Fonda in Five Acts certainly covers her emotional arc with thoroughness and compassion.”


SEPTEMBER 28: All About Nina (dir. Eva Vives)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Shayna Weingast: “Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) isn’t your typical brash stand-up comic. Her sets may be littered with frank sex talk, sarcastic cynicism, and vulgarity, but her act is no mere act. Having finally ditched her abusive lover (Chace Crawford), Nina hightails it to Los Angeles with the hope of finally making it big. Things begin to improve in her career, as well as in her love life—thanks to a new love interest, Rafe (Common)—but this hard-drinking heroine isn’t sure she can handle stability. Despite her budding successes, Nina struggles to reconcile being authentic and happy in both her career and in her personal life.

“As All About Nina’s fractured protagonist, Mary Elizabeth Winstead delivers an astonishingly raw performance, tearing into her part with the ferocity Nina deserves. The film’s strong supporting cast includes a revelatory Common, who portrays a man of utmost decency, patience, and love. Through these complicated and resonant characters, as well as its deft examination of timely matters like trauma, abuse, and sexism in the world of stand-up comedy, All About Nina offers insight into what it means to be a talented, creative woman today.”


SEPTEMBER 28: A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and the American Dream (dir. Stephanie Welch)Cinema Village synopsis: “A dangerous idea has threatened the American Dream from the beginning – the belief that some groups and individuals are inherently superior to others and more deserving of fundamental rights. Such biological determinism provided an excuse for some of America’s most shameful history. And now it’s back.

“The documentary A Dangerous Idea reveals how biologically determined politics has disenfranchised women and people of color, provided a rationale for state sanctioned crimes committed against America’s most vulnerable citizens, and now gains new traction under the Trump administration.

“Featuring interviews with social thinkers such as Van Jones and Robert Reich, as well as prominent scientists, A Dangerous Idea is a radical reassessment of the meaning, use and misuse of gene science. Like no other film before it, this documentary brings to light how false scientific claims have rolled back long fought for gains in equality, and how powerful interests are poised once again to use the gene myth to unravel the American Dream.”


SEPTEMBER 28: Free Solo (dirs. Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi)Angelika Film Center synopsis: “From award-winning documentary filmmaker E. Chai Vasarhelyi and world-renowned photographer and mountaineer Jimmy Chin, comes Free Solo, a stunning, intimate and unflinching portrait of free soloist climber Alex Honnold, as he prepares to achieve his lifelong dream: climbing the face of the world’s most famous rock… the 3,200ft El Capitan in Yosemite National Park… without a rope.”


SEPTEMBER 28: Little Women (dir. Clare Niederpruem) (DP: Anka Malatynska)Faith Films synopsis: “Sisters—and dreams—are unique in their ability to inspire, encourage and change the world.

“For 150 years, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has motivated women of all ages to dream together and celebrate family. Coming to theaters for the first time, a modern retelling of Little Women brings a new generation together with their mothers, sisters and friends.

“From girls playing in the attic to women living with purpose, the March sisters —Meg (Melanie Stone), Jo (Sarah Davenport), Beth (Allie Jennings) and Amy (Elise Jones) —are committed to always supporting each other. Yet, growing up sometimes means growing apart.”


SEPTEMBER 28: Summer ’03 (dir. Becca Gleason)Solzy at the Movies’ SXSW Festival review by Danielle Solzman: “With a fresh voice from writer-director Becca Gleason in her feature directorial debut, actress Joey King carries Summer ’03 from start to finish with one of the best performances to date in 2018.

“When her grandmother, Dotty Winkle (June Squibb), passed away, it’s Jamie Winkle (Joey King) who is left with the biggest burden of all. Not only did her grandmother expose some pretty huge secrets, she tells Jamie that one of her biggest regrets–and hopes Jamie can fulfill her dying request–was that she didn’t ‘learn how to give a proper blow job.’

“As Jamie deals with the newly discovered information, her mother, Shira (Andrea Savage) is freed of her anti-Semitic mother-in-law and celebrates with some drunk dancing. Meanwhile, her father, Ned (Paul Scheer), is dealing with the biggest blow to his life. Without giving away the film, there’s some strong emotions that come with coming to terms with what Dotty told him before she died.

“King ought to be considered a star on the rise with how she carries the film. In the past few years, the actress has grown up before our eyes. What she does with the role is provide a career-best performance in her young career. If King keeps making the same great decisions in tackling what projects she chooses, the actress will have a great career ahead of her.

“While King may carry the film, it’s veteran actress June Squibb who steals it within the few minutes of screen time in which she appears. The scene in which she gathers in her family prior to passing away is one of the funniest scenes in the film. What makes it even better is how composer Nathan Matthew David’s score makes for an awesome complement. There’s a dinner table scene that–without giving the film away–makes for some awkward hilarity and much credit goes to improv pros Paul Scheer and Andrea Savage. Scheer and Savage are perfect in the roles. There’s nobody else in the world who could bring what these two bring to the table.

“The film includes an underwater scene that’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Ben Hardwicke. Underwater scenes aren’t easy to pull off but Hardwicke does so in a way that captures King’s beauty in the water. Gleason and Hardwicke were also able to pull off one of the biggest scenes in the film by shooting from the right angles without showing too much.

“It’s filmmakers like Gleason who shows through her script and direction that there’s a crop of rising female filmmakers who have a voice to offer and need to be heard. In her feature debut, Gleason offers a fresh take on the coming-of-age genre. It may be one of the most unique takes by far even if the Atlanta area stands in for the city of Cincinnati, Oh.

Summer ’03 may not be a game changer for the coming-of-age genre but it’s a fresh take that provides for a lot of humor, emotion, and heart.”


SEPTEMBER 28: 306 Hollywood (dirs. Elan Bogarin and Jonathan Bogarin) (DPs: Elan Bogarin, Jonathan Bogarin and Alejandro Mejía)Quad Cinema synopsis: “At 306 Hollywood Avenue in Newark, former dress designer Annette Ontell lived for 71 years in a nondescript white house. After her death in 2011, her grandchildren Elan and Jonathan were left with her belongings, from toothbrushes to tax documents. Instead of throwing away this lifetime of detritus, Elan and Jonathan began a meticulous process of cataloguing and archiving everything Annette left behind. The result is this magical documentary, an inspiring look at the extraordinary stories and histories hidden away in the everyday.”

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: August 2018

Actress Emily Mortimer and director/screenwriter Isabel Coixet on the set of The Bookshop, 2016. (Photo: IMDb)

Here are thirty new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this August, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

AUGUST 1: Nico, 1988 (dir. Susanna Nicchiarelli) (DP: Crystel Fournier)Rolling Stone review by David Fear: “The woman you see in Susanna Nicchiarelli’s extraordinary Nico, 1988 is not the Nico you know — the icy Teutonic chanteuse who blessed Velvet Underground tunes like ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ with her incomparable intercontinental monotone, the model who shows up in La Dolce Vita, the downtown muse who hung with Warhol and hooked up with Jim Morrison. ‘I’m here with Lou Reed’s femme fatale!‘ chirps an obnoxiously cheery D.J. during a Manchester radio interview. ‘Don’t call me that. I don’t like it,’ replies the singer (Danish actress Trine Dyrholm) in a world-weary rasp and fixing the man behind the microphone with a world-class death stare.

“The year is 1986, two years before the singer will perish after a bike accident in Ibiza. She has no sentimental attachment to the past; asked whether the late Sixties were the best days of her life, her answer is ‘Well, we did a lot of LSD …’ When her manager (John Gordon Sinclair) calls her Nico, she corrects him: Her name is Christa Päffgen. (Nico is a construction; Christa is a person.) The signature blond hair has given way to washed-out brown. ‘Am I ugly?’ she asks him. When he says yes, the lady sighs in relief: ‘Good, I wasn’t happy when I was beautiful.’ She still tours, attracting crowds in Scottish bars and Italian plazas, attacking her songs and, on occasion, her band. She wonders why journalists don’t ask about her solo work more. She’s through being your mirror.

“Music biopics tend to go cradle-to-grave broad — this is your life, Elvis/Loretta Lynn/N.W.A! — or drill-down narrow, focusing on a specific, usually symbolic period of an artist’s arc in the name of Rosetta Stones and Rosebuds. (See: The Hours and the Times, Jimi: All Is By My Side, Bound for Glory.) Nicchiarelli, an Italian writer-director, goes with impressionistic version of Option B and sets her sights on the last few years of Päffgen’s life, long after the Factory has closed up shop and the final laps are being run. Fans still come out, she can still parlay her fame into getting fancy hotels — sure, she has to sit in with the residency’s local jazz quartet to sing for her supper, whatever — and she can still get rugged, bearded men to fall under her sway. But you wonder why the filmmaker would set her sights on the (self-admitted semi-fictionalized) autumn years instead of the spotlight-glare glory days.

“And then it hits you: This is a reclamation. Anyone who witnessed the scenes of the singer circa ’86 in the documentary Nico Icon (1995), leaning into a microphone with haunted eyes and hands clutching a cigarette, formed an opinion of her at odds with the curated imagery of early years — the great German beauty as self-made human ruin. This movie lends depth to the defiance of those sequences, as well as context. Nico isn’t let off the hook here, with her screen counterpart indulging in superdiva behavior, putting her young son in harm’s way (and suffering through his suicide attempt as a young man), screaming at folks, shutting down shows midway through and shooting heroin into scabby ankles.

“But she’s also granted an inner life, a sense of who this woman was beneath the mask. She’s not reduced to a live-fast-die-fucked-up cliché, even when the story drops everything into a narrative of late-act sex, drugs and post-rock-and-roll avant-drone vamping. It’s a posthumous gift to Päffgen. Even her death, shown here as Nico leaving her house on a sunny Ibiza day, bike in hand and a colorful door closing behind here, is presented with a sense of grace. Nicchiarelli spares us nothing but still gives her dignity on the way out.

“As does Dyrholm, who pours herself into the role with a scary intensity and a lack of self-conscious, look-at-me theatricality. Music biopics can live or die by their central performances; you may love or hate Ray or Walk the Line, to name just two, but you undoubtedly remember Jamie Foxx and Joaquin Phoenix’s respective turns in those films. The Danish actor doesn’t go into full-impersonation mode, though she does wonders with that voice, turning that seen-it-all monotone into something capable of being both comic and tragic. Instead, she concentrates on how this woman’s self-destructive charisma kept people around her and chaos around every corner — this is Nico as a black-hole sun, with everyone from her managers to fellow musicians (shout-out to Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca, of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days fame, as a long-suffering violinist) revolving around the void.

“And just when you think the artist has gotten short shrift in the stage-presence department, Nicchiarelli and Dyrholm drop a bomb on you: A dopesick Nico and her band tearing into ‘My Heart Is Empty’ in Prague and tearing it apart, all cold sweats and white heat. That scene is a showstopper, reminding you the movie is both an open-wound and a celebration before we see her coming back to down to Earth, hard and fast. The singer herself might have hated Nico, 1988‘s insistence on such mythic highs and miserablist lows, if she didn’t just shrug ambivalently at the notion or was simply content to roll her eyes. But Christa Päffgen, the woman who remembered what it was like to see the world as her oyster and Berlin bombed when she was a girl? She would probably have loved it.”

AUGUST 3 (streaming on Netflix): Brij Mohan Amar Rahe! (aka Long Live Brij Mohan) (dir. Nikhil Bhat) (DP: Pooja S. Gupte)Netflix synopsis: “Faking his death to escape the realities of his uneventful life worked out well for Brij Mohan (Arjun Mathur) — until he was sentenced to death for his own murder.”

AUGUST 3: The Darkest Minds (dir. Jennifer Yuh Nelson)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “When teens mysteriously develop powerful new abilities, they are declared a threat by the government and detained. Sixteen-year-old Ruby (Amandla Stenberg), one of the most powerful young people anyone has encountered, escapes her camp and joins a group of runaway teens seeking safe haven. Soon this newfound family realizes that, in a world in which the adults in power have betrayed them, running is not enough and they must wage a resistance, using their collective power to take back control of their future.”

AUGUST 3 (streaming on Netflix): Like Father (dir. Lauren Miller Rogen)New York Times review by Glenn Kenny: “Directed by Lauren Miller Rogen, [Like Father is] a predictable comedy of reconciliation. But it boasts substantial pleasures, largely on account of the performers.

“Kristen Bell’s Rachel is a workaholic advertising exec who’s still setting up meetings on her cellphone on the day of her wedding, at Central Park’s scenic Bethesda Fountain. Rachel’s husband-to-be can’t take it anymore, and he cracks up and leaves her at the altar. Observing all this, flowers in hand, is Harry (Kelsey Grammer), an uninvited guest. He’s Rachel’s father, who abandoned his family when she was 5, the better to pursue, you’ll never guess, his career.

“Rachel is at first indignant on meeting the father she never really knew, but he persuades her to go out for drinks with him. Drinks, not talk, she insists — and so the two wind up drinking quite a bit. The next day, they’re sharing a suite on a cruise ship — the one Rachel’s husband-to-be had booked for their honeymoon. They resolve to leave the ship at its first port of call and fly home, though you know that’s not going to happen.

“There is no small amusement value in the comic hook Ms. Rogen works for all its worth in a few subsequent scenes, which has Rachel and Harry being mistaken for newlyweds by many of their fellow passengers. An ensuing onboard ‘game show,’ a sort of ‘Newlywed Game’-style competition, is a great set piece; Harry concocts a scheme that allows them to win, albeit awkwardly. The funny stuff sells itself, and it expands with the introduction of Jeff, played by Seth Rogen, a single on the cruise whose interest in Rachel brings out Harry’s protective side. (The director is married to Mr. Rogen, whose character is given the in-joke trait of never having smoked marijuana in his life.)

“The movie hews to conventional structure to a fault, right down to the characters’ inevitable reconciliation. But Ms. Rogen has a lot of good sense as a director, making the most of the floating-amusement-park atmosphere of cruise ships. Because Mr. Grammer is a first-rate actor who, since his distinguished stint on the sitcom ‘Frasier’ hasn’t had many meaty screen roles come his way, he really sinks his teeth into Harry, and Ms. Bell is no slouch playing against him. They make the movie.”

AUGUST 3: Milla (dir. Valérie Massadian)Anthology Film Archives synopsis: “In a delicate, even generous manner, Valérie Massadian’s new film begins as a story of two young lovers’ life on the fringes before shifting towards one of recent cinema’s finest depictions of motherhood. Milla and Leo live clandestinely, their meager furnishings and sustenance countered by a love for which there is neither a logic nor substitute. But such an existence will only last until forces of nature take hold. Where is there to go in its wake? Milla considers every dimension of love, loyalty, and grief through a poetic, startling vision that recalls the likes of Barbara Loden and Chantal Akerman while remaining without precedent.”

AUGUST 3: The Miseducation of Cameron Post (dir. Desiree Akhavan) (DP: Ashley Connor)Pajiba review by Roxana Hadadi: “Kindness is a weapon wielded by adults in Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Compassion is never straightforward, but always insidious, always offered immediately before a barrage of guilt. No parent or guardian ever says the word ‘homophobia,’ but that’s because everyone is already practicing it. It’s already been decided. To be a woman loving a woman or to be a man loving a man is unequivocally an immoral act, and that makes you a sinner — and sinners need to be saved, by any means necessary.

“Adapted from Emily M. Danforth’s 2012 novel by Akhavan, who directed and co-wrote the film (and whose 2014 debut Appropriate Behavior dealt with similar themes, of a bisexual Iranian-American woman hiding her sexual identity from her family), The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a portrait of the teens whose souls are being claimed, and abused, by those adults, by the people who earnestly say things like ‘There’s no such thing as homosexuality … would you let drug addicts throw parades for themselves?’ and ‘I’m doing this because I love you.’ There are layers of manipulation and deceit and it’s all allegedly well-intentioned, and it would be almost impossible to watch if not for the teenagers who refuse to submit. It’s the spirit of those children that is the real story in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and it’s their strength and their hope that carries the film forward, that makes watching it an honor to those teenagers — the ones who survived the indoctrination, the guilt, and the abandonment from people who were supposed to protect them.

“The film, set in 1993, focuses on high school senior Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz, doing career-best work here that makes you forget missteps like The 5th Wave and If I Stay), who is being raised by her aunt after her parents died in a car accident years before. She goes to Bible study class, she plays high school sports, she has a boyfriend — and the careful world of ‘normalcy’ she’s built for herself is blown up when she’s discovered having sex with her female best friend in the back of a car on prom night. Practically immediately, without asking Cam what she wants or how she feels, her conservative aunt sends her to the conversion camp God’s Promise. In the middle of nowhere, the camp is full of teens like Cameron, sent there by family members to cure them of ‘SSA,’ or ‘same-sex attraction.’

“The people in charge of that brain-washing are Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), the kind of guy who softly strums an acoustic guitar while he sings songs about your sins, and Dr. Lydia March (Jennifer Ehle), who uses her scientific training to forcefully tell the teens that their homosexual feelings aren’t real, that all of their problems can be traced to ‘gender confusion,’ that everything the teens do will be judged because ‘there’s no hiding from God.’ One of Cam’s new friends Adam Red Eagle (the wonderful Forrest Goodluck, who you may recognize from playing Leo’s son in The Revenant), sent to the camp by his politically aspirational father who refuses to accept Adam’s identity as Lakotan two-spirit, describes Lydia as a ‘Disney villain [who] won’t let you jack off.’ It’s a hilarious description for a maniacal figure who traffics in traumatizing children and telling them she’s curing them, but the movie doesn’t back away from how Lydia is supported and enabled by systems of fellow adults who would rather endanger children than upend the status quo.

“But while the omnipresent threat of Lydia is effective in capturing the horrifying world of these religious camps, The Miseducation of Cameron Post comes to life because Cam, Adam, and Jane Fonda (the magnetic Sasha Lane, of American Honey), because of how these teenagers bond together in the face of such stifling identity erasure. Moretz nails the unsureness of her character, of a young woman who knows instinctively that her feelings for her best friend were real but who can’t quite understand why so many other people would abhor that so much, and a phone call between her and her aunt toward the end of the film is colossally painful but a clear turning point, the kind of moment that crystallizes who a person becomes. And the film extends that generosity to nearly all of its teen characters, providing them each with a life before the camp and interiority while they’re there; you understand why some of them would invest so desperately into the camp’s promises while others would feel so deeply betrayed.

“‘Maybe you’re supposed to feel disgusted by yourself when you’re a teenager,’ Cam says to Lydia, and the intent of The Miseducation of Cameron Post is captured perfectly in that line — it’s a defense of the spontaneity of youth, of the pureness of young love, of the validity of feelings that are so hated by people who want to destroy them instead of accept them. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a love letter to the kids who needed it the most, and its final image, which Akhavan lets her camera linger on, is profoundly weighty despite total silence. No one should have to apologize for who they love, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a fierce attack on anyone who would tell you different.”

AUGUST 3: Never Goin’ Back (dir. Augustine Frizzell) (DP: Greta Zozula)San Francisco Chronicle review by Mick LaSalle:Never Goin’ Back is a lot more serious than it looks. Most movies go the opposite way — they seem more serious than they are — and they get rewarded for that, by people willing to play along. But Never Goin’ Back is happily silly and low-down and willing to indulge in gross humor, while presenting a story about friendship and about the consequences of growing up with no money or prospects.

“Written and directed by Augustine Frizzell, this is a movie unlike any other and must be understood in those terms. It’s not a failed attempt to make the usual teen comedy. It’s something new, the story of two 17-year-old girls, working as waitresses in a diner. They’ve dropped out of school. They live in Texas. They were born broke and will probably die broke, but right now they’re young and full of excitement, even though their world looks pretty grim.

“That contrast is at the heart of the movie. They don’t like their circumstances, and they don’t like slaving in a restaurant or worrying about the rent, but they’re not beaten down by that, not yet. They’re frisky as kittens. So, this is their moment, and, with luck, they may be able to stretch that moment and build satisfying lives. But Never Goin’ Back only shows us a few days and lets us infer the rest.

“The tone is set early, so everybody can go to the ticket window and get their money back if they don’t like this sort of thing: It begins with Jessie (Camila Morrone) asleep and Angela (Maia Mitchell) drawing a penis on Jessie’s face. Moments later, Jessie wakes up and, without looking in a mirror, asks, ‘Did you draw a dick on my face?’ So, this is just the kind of thing that happens.

“In shrewd storytelling fashion, Frizzell gets things moving the right way: Angela, who is four months older and the more forceful of the two, announces that she has bought the two of them a long weekend at the beach in Galveston to celebrate Jessie’s birthday. The only hitch is that she used the rent money, so the girls will have to work long shifts to make the rent in the days leading up to the trip.

“You don’t need to know Galveston beach to glean from the movie that it’s not quite the Cote d’Azur, but the very fact that it sounds bleak makes the girls’ investment in it all the more affecting. They dream about it. They picture themselves frolicking, and we see what they’re picturing. It’s their vision of paradise, and it gives you an idea, without the filmmaker ever going into specifics, that their lives have been anything but privileged.

“It’s important to point out that Frizzell is not only economical in communicating such information, she is also subtle in how she handles it. The movie does no special pleading on behalf of these girls. She has too much respect for the characters to offer them up as sociological specimens. The tone is light. The girls keep getting into trouble, mostly of their own making. They’re funny, and they’re individual  people, not a condition of life. It’s only because we end up liking them so much that we end up worrying about them.

“The water in the apartment is turned off, so Jessie can’t go to the bathroom. Constipation is a running theme, and it’s played for laughs. But we can’t help but notice that most of their problems, big and small, stem from having no money.

“Morrone and Mitchell look glamorous in their real-life incarnations, walking the red carpet at the premieres; but Frizzell tones down the makeup and films them in harsh light, so no one looks like an actress here. The two make a lovely unit as Jessie and Angela. Without trying to be — indeed, because they don’t try to be — they’re quite touching, and we believe in their friendship as we believe in few other things in this year’s movies.”

AUGUST 3 (in theaters & on digital/VOD): Night Comes On (dir. Jordana Spiro)Vulture review by David Edelstein: “The protagonist of Jordana Spiro’s Night Comes On is named ‘Angel Lamere,’ a not-so-subtle signifier that her essential nature is good and that she yearns for la mer, the sea. It’s all there in the first shot, of the younger Angel curled up in bed with her mother, who was subsequently killed, and the older’s Angel’s recollection (in voice-over) that her mom used to say that if you closed your eyes, a passing car could sound like the ocean. That’s what Angel (Dominique Fishback) hears as she sits in her concrete-box room in a juvenile-detention facility: first the waves and then, as Angel returns to earth, the cars. It’s two days before her 18th birthday, and she’s about to be released on parole. But she’s not heading out into a hopeful sunrise. That night is coming on is signaled by one of Angel’s first orders of business: to buy a gun. She’s an avenging angel.

“Spiro has been a popular TV star (My Boys, The Mob Doctor, Ozark) for decades, but there’s no residue of network drama in her directorial debut, which she wrote with Angelica Nwandu. There is a kind of Sundance Screenwriting Lab tidiness in the structure, in how the themes are laid out, and in such names as ‘Angel Lamere.’ But Night Comes On has a winning naturalism. Though slow, it’s intense, and you’re hooked from its first scene — Angel’s final meeting with the detention authorities — to its last, wrenching image. Spiro is a real filmmaker.

“She has given the film a melodramatic structure — Angel’s drive for revenge. But it’s the young woman’s inner chaos, her sense that she’s adrift in a world with no just authority, that suffuses every frame. Although Angel was jailed for carrying a weapon, she’s not responsible for the tragedy that set her life on its current course. The question is whether her determination to kill the person who is the cause (and the consequences that will bring) is inexorable. Spiro subtly puts the film on the side of the exorable. Much is beyond her control, including the apparent rejection of her lover (Cymbal Byrd), with whom she thought she’d be living. But much is a matter of choice. Spiro’s humanism is also in every frame. Angel, the film suggests, is free to create her life anew. The key is what she does about her little sister, Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall), who’s in foster care and stands a chance of moving beyond her mother’s death.

“Hard-edged, with muscles she has built for her own protection, Fishback’s Angel holds the camera through all her wanderings. Her eyes flash with hurt and sometimes anger at what people have that she doesn’t — family, money, a sense of order. But suddenly there is Hall’s Abby, with her soft face and body, and Angel’s anger seems pointless, maladaptive. Both performances are perfect. So are the actors in supporting roles, from Max Casella’s friendly and then predatory gun dealer to John Jelks as the girls’ father. Charismatic, sunk into himself in shame but alert and wary, Jelks’s John Lemere is the scariest kind of abuser — one a little girl wants to love.

“The emotions onscreen are unruly enough to overcome the screenplay’s fine carpentry and an occasional scene that’s too on the nose. Like Moonlight, Night Comes On takes much of its soulfulness from la mer and people’s capacity for rebirth in its waters. This is a lovely, inspiring film.”

AUGUST 3: The Spy Who Dumped Me (dir. Susanna Fogel)New Yorker review by Richard Brody: “An American secret agent whose work puts him into dangerous situations breaks up with a woman he loves, because he doesn’t want her to face those dangers. That’s part of the plot of Mission: Impossible—Fallout, and it’s also the premise of The Spy Who Dumped Me, which opens tomorrow. The comedy, directed by Susanna Fogel (who wrote the script with David Iserson), begins with the spy, Drew (Justin Theroux), seemingly ambling idly through a market in Vilnius, Lithuania, when he becomes aware of a threat, against which he casually and surreptitiously arms himself with the first household doodads he can grab. Then mayhem erupts, merchants and patrons dive for cover, and Drew clobbers some assailants, dodges others, gets caught in a major shoot-out, and dashes away to a large, grim building for a moment of safety—to re-arm, to prepare for the next round with his pursuers, and to break up by cell phone with his girlfriend, Audrey (Mila Kunis), who lives in Los Angeles. While Drew is seen pointing a gun at the camera, Audrey is introduced doing the same thing—a blue plastic toy gun that’s part of a video game that she’s playing at a bar where she and a group of friends are celebrating her birthday.

“The scene is mere setup; it provides the impetus for the story, which is Audrey’s ensnarement, along with her best friend, Morgan (Kate McKinnon), in the very danger that Drew tried to spare her. But, for all its plain functionality, the sequence is staged and filmed with a brisk, spare, nearly choreographic vigor that distinguishes it from violent scenes created with the approximate and merely illustrative direction that marks, or mars, many movies (including Mission: Impossible—Fallout). Though what happens next is the core of The Spy Who Dumped Me, the opening sequence sets a tone that remains consistent—and consistently clever and inventive—through most of the effervescent action.

“Audrey, a marketing associate, and Morgan, an aspiring actress, are roommates; Audrey has the more conservative personal life—her relationship with Drew, she thought, was stable. The flighty Morgan is, stereotypically, more of a hedonist, bringing home from a bar a lunkheaded Ukrainian man (and the next morning, while he’s still in the apartment, she makes a phone call: ‘Mom, did you get the dick pics I sent you?’). That very morning, the seemingly vanished Drew drops in, literally; there’s another grand, hysterically rapid rumpus, in the course of which Audrey learns that Drew is a C.I.A. agent, that he’s in mortal danger, and that the fate of the free world depends upon delivering a childhood trophy of his to a contact in Vienna.

“In Vienna, we get a pair of cognate comedic action scenes that provide a cinematic high from which the movie only gradually comes down. In a huge café, where Audrey meets the designated contact, another attack erupts, one that features both wildly antic touches (think of fondue) and a furious shoot-out that—unlike many movie scenes of gunfire—is, for all its comedy and chaos, both clearly patterned and marked by elements of real fear, including sounds of gunshots that are individual, sharp, and terrifying. The scene, despite its frenetic exaggeration and gleeful stylization, suggests with an unemphatic but unmistakable clarity the experience of Audrey and Morgan, who are experiencing live fire for the first time in their lives.

“The two women escape with the help of a coöperative black-car driver named Lukas (the popular young French actor Kev Adams) who, when they let him know that villains are in hot pursuit, is all too eager to take on the challenge of the getaway, which turns both comedically grotesque and thrillingly imaginative and is capped with a tossed-off riff by McKinnon that gives the scene the giddy spin of a propeller on a beanie. These two action scenes, coming in quick succession, are—moment for moment, shot for shot, beat for beat—better than the cognate action scenes in Mission: Impossible—Fallout. Each of Fogel’s images distills the stakes and the efforts more snappily; the physical details are more surprising; the mood and thrust of the battles and chases are more varied, and the variety is delivered more abruptly; the actors seem more present. Above all, Fogel’s own commitment to these scenes, her sense of enthusiasm rather than just engineering, of delight rather than ostentation, distinguishes them from those of Fallout; although the context is utterly unrealistic and intentionally absurd, they nonetheless capture a sense of experience, from behind the camera, that the bigger and more spectacular film never achieves.

“The setup and the plot of The Spy Who Dumped Me are familiar, but Fogel and Iserson fill them out with piquantly loopy, extravagant, and off-kilter details, which Fogel, seemingly with a comedic poker face, sets smoothly into motion with a perceptive and discerning clarity. Audrey and Morgan find their fate entangled with another pair of operatives, the suave Sebastian (Sam Heughan) and the nerdy Duffer (Hasan Minhaj), and they have to thread their way through a series of simple but deft twists involving deceptive identities. Morgan’s parents, Arnie (Paul Reiser) and Carol (Jane Curtin), from Freehold, New Jersey (Isenson’s home town), show up, as does a family friend (the majestic Fred Melamed takes part in these antics); an Edward Snowden mention that appears in the first act goes off astoundingly in the third; and some data-centric business turns out to be carnally intimate. There are touches of gory observation (a blood-spattered T-shirt worn in full public view, several inconvenient corpses, some fierce and frightening head-butting) that fluctuate uneasily between comic exaggeration and acknowledgment of the fundamental unfunniness of spy-versus-spy violence. The shambling tale of friends unto death propels Audrey and Morgan through other European venues, including Prague, Paris, and Berlin, which, dramatically, proves to be one trip too far. The script offers a tangle of loose ends to unscramble in a hurry, and the trapeze-centered set piece that provokes the dénouement—featuring a fight that the audience takes for a performance—is a better idea than it is a vision.

“Despite the various concessions to narrative convention and comedic shorthand throughout the film, the tight framework meshes closely with the action while also remaining loose enough to let its lead actors—and especially McKinnon, of course—gleefully and effectively banter. Kunis’s Audrey is the earnest and practical member of the team, and McKinnon’s Morgan the loose cannon, but her impulsive improvisations save the day as often as Kunis’s thoughtful plans do. Morgan says outrageous things that she doesn’t mean but that are meant to make an effect and get attention, though she really means the meaning of them if not their hyperbolic flash. The movie places McKinnon’s comedic gift on display throughout, with bursts of verbal invention, albeit by way of brief and flashy sprints rather than in the sort of extended scenes and ampler dramatization that (in another sort of movie) her artistry awaits.”

AUGUST 10 (in theaters & on digital): Church & State (dirs. Holly Tuckett and Kendall Wilcox) (DPs: Torben Bernhard and Holly Tuckett)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Church & State is the improbable story of a brash, inexperienced gay activist and a tiny Salt Lake City law firm that joined forces to topple Utah’s gay marriage ban. The film’s ride on the bumpy road to equality in Utah offers a glimpse at the Mormon church’s influence in state politics and the squabbles inside the gay community that nearly derailed a chance to make history. Church & State is a story of triumph, setback and a little-known lawsuit that should have failed, but instead paved the way for a U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized gay unions nationwide.”

AUGUST 10: Madeline’s Madeline (dir. Josephine Decker) (DP: Ashley Connor)Quad Cinema synopsis: “In an astonishing debut, Helena Howard stars as Madeline, a New York teen who’s rapidly becoming a crucial member of an experimental theatre troupe. Under the tutelage of demanding director Molly Parker, she draws upon her rich inner life and rocky relationship with mother Miranda July, but is this imagination or exploitation? Gorgeously photographed in a free-floating style by Ashley Connor, this startling, impressionistic feature from Josephine Decker transcends traditional coming-of-art drama to create something wholly singular.”

AUGUST 10 (streaming on Netflix): The Package (dir. Jake Szymanski) (DP: Hillary Spera)The Hollywood Reporter review by Justin Lowe: “To say that The Package is one continuous dirty joke with an outrageously absurd premise wouldn’t be an exaggeration. It’s also a funny, sweet, raucous teen comedy that’s by turns ridiculous and raunchy, but thankfully never too profound. If this Netflix original can attract audiences on the scale of recent sleepers like Set It Up and The Kissing Booth, the streamer’s transparently targeted summer-release strategy will be scoring big with the key teen demographic.

“By far the edgiest of the three titles, The Package takes the hallowed spring-break tradition of hard partying as its departure point. For high schoolers Jeremy (Eduardo Franco) and Donnie (Luke Spencer Roberts), a guys-only camping trip seems like a great way to welcome back Sean (Daniel Doheny) from overseas studies in Germany. That is until Jeremy awkwardly informs his buddies that his twin sister, Becky (Geraldine Viswanathan), will be joining them, since she just canceled her Cancun travel plans after breaking up with her clueless boyfriend. She’ll be bringing along her bestie Sarah (Sadie Calvano), who just happens to be Donnie’s hypercritical ex-gf.

“No question it’s a potentially volatile mix of personalities, particularly since Sean still harbors a not-so-secret crush for Becky. However, Jeremy remains largely oblivious to the potential conflicts already brewing, as he is more obsessed with his (slightly illegal) super-sharp gravity knife and perfecting his blade technique. A six-mile hike takes the group into the depths of the Northwest wilderness, where they can finally cut loose and indulge in some serious underage drinking. Donnie gets things started with his spiced-rum chugging ritual and pretty soon everyone’s mixing cane liquor and cheap domestic beer with abandon. Jeremy takes things a bit too far, however, and when that tricky blade comes into play, disaster results. Now it’s up to Donnie and his feuding ex, along with awkward Sean and bitter Becky, to come to Jeremy’s rescue before he becomes physically and (very much) psychologically scarred for life.

“Although it eschews the more female-skewing romantic focus of Netflix’s other summer teen comedy releases, The Package eventually reveals its softer side once Sean musters the courage to tell Becky how he really feels about her. Of course, it turns out all wrong, forcing him to go even further to prove his loyalty, which is exactly the point.

“Doheny, who recently starred in high school rom-com Alex Strangelove, proves adept at physical comedy, at one point taking an epic pratfall that pays off repeatedly in later scenes. Although she looks nothing like Franco’s twin sister, Viswanathan demonstrates that her impressive turn in Blockers was no fluke, delivering put-downs and wisecracks with a slyly innocent expression and lethal intent.

“Szymanski (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), and co-writers Kevin Burrows and Matt Mider have devised a series of rapidly escalating comedic situations triggered by more than a few WTF moments. While not all of the twists are equally effective, they build with relentless momentum as the friends overcome unexpected obstacles to prove their devotion to Jeremy, although the outcome of their often absurd antics is never in doubt.”

AUGUST 10: Skate Kitchen (dir. Crystal Moselle)IFC Center synopsis: “In the first narrative feature from The Wolfpack director Crystal Moselle, Camille, an introverted teenage skateboarder (newcomer Rachelle Vinberg) from Long Island, meets and befriends an all-girl, New York City-based skateboarding crew called Skate Kitchen. She falls in with the in-crowd, has a falling-out with her mother, and falls for a mysterious skateboarder guy (Jaden Smith), but a relationship with him proves to be trickier to navigate than a kickflip.

“Writer/director Crystal Moselle immersed herself in the lives of the skater girls and worked closely with them, resulting in the film’s authenticity, which combines poetic, atmospheric filmmaking and hypnotic skating sequences. Skate Kitchen precisely captures the experience of women in male-dominated spaces and tells a story of a girl who learns the importance of camaraderie and self-discovery.”

AUGUST 10 (in theaters), AUGUST 24 (on VOD/digital): Summer of ’84 (dirs. François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell)PopMatters’ Sundance Film Festival review by J.R. Kinnard:Summer of ’84 takes place back in the days when kids were actually allowed to escape adult supervision. It was a glorious time of riding your bike down busy streets, playing ball until the sun goes down, and trying to prove that your next door neighbor is a serial killer. Okay, that last thing might be exclusive to the kids from Summer of ’84.

“Davey (Graham Verchere), Eats (Judah Lewis), Woody (Caleb Emery), and Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew) are restless 15-year-olds looking for grand adventure over summer vacation. Their ring leader is Davey, a bright kid with an active imagination for conspiracies. His bedroom wall is plastered with news clippings about murdered children near his hometown of Ipswich, Oregon. ‘The Cape May Slayer’ is on the loose and Davey’s pretty certain it’s his policeman neighbor, Mr. Mackey (Rich Sommer).

“Co-directors François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell understand nerd teen culture like Donald Trump understands Aqua Net. This exhilarating follow-up to their 2015 cult hit, Turbo Kid, feels like the demented love child of Stranger Things and Rear Window. Davey and his gang, armed only with wisecracks and crappy walkie-talkies, must find some incriminating evidence in Mr. Mackey’s basement before the clueless adults thwart their investigation and ground them until they’re 50.

Summer of ’84 works because of the natural camaraderie between the young actors. Whereas the kids from 2017’s It seem like miniature adults, these kids are the genuine article. They tease one another mercilessly, but you can feel the emotional currency built up over their years of sparring. Some of the film’s most effective scenes involve the kids comforting one another in the face of parental upheaval. Divorce was still something of an unusual occurrence back in 1984, with kids left to endure not only the emotional scars, but the social stigma, as well.

“The mood and tone throughout the film’s first half remain relatively light. Clues are accumulated, close calls are had, and the kids are free to spout Scooby Doo clichés like, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this!” A synth-heavy score sounds like Tangerine Dream’s B-side for Risky Business. Davey even has time for a dalliance with his former babysitter Nikki (Tiera Skovbye); the inaccessible 18-year-old girl who serves as the fantasy bridge between magazine models and real girls.

“Once it reaches the midpoint, however, Summer of ’84 speeds headlong into horror territory. Sure, the directors occasionally lean on lazy jump scares, but they also show a deft hand at building tension. Caring what actually happens to the heroes helps immensely; a lesson more horror filmmakers need to learn.

“When the end arrives, you’ll probably think you’ve got things all figured out. You aren’t even close. It’s the type of outrageous ending that divides audiences and builds cult followings. Summer of ’84 is a trashy classic that will absolutely rock midnight movie houses.”

AUGUST 10: The Swan (dir. Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir)Village Voice review by Serena Donadoni: “Anchored by a remarkable child’s performance, The Swan is a sensitive example of an overlooked element in coming-of-age films: awakening to the outside world. Nine-year-old Sól (Gríma Valsdóttir) is an insular girl, her imagination fueled by the craggy shoreline and unceasing sea that surround her small Icelandic coastal community. She’s angry and resentful at being sent away for the summer, a banishment presented in Gudbergur Bergsson’s 1991 novel as the punishment for shoplifting.

“Writer-director Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir’s entrancing adaptation makes Sól’s exile to an inland farm more vague, a punitive act inflicted by baffled adults who see her restless curiosity as pernicious rebellion. Sól’s great aunt and uncle regularly take in wayward kids, believing that hard work and exposure to nature will straighten them out. By presenting events primarily from the perspective of this thoughtful, observant girl, Hjörleifsdóttir’s first feature highlights the flaws in the rural couple’s reductive approach while chronicling the maturation of a child who’s experiencing dizzying new emotions and struggling to comprehend the powerful discontent of adults.

“Hjörleifsdóttir continually shifts from Sól’s hazy point of view, a dreamlike and intimate cocoon, to a sharp vision of what’s happening around her with startling effectiveness. But what Sól mostly perceives are the adults she both admires and disdains: the compassionate farmhand feverishly scribbling in his journal in red ink and the sardonic farmer’s daughter punishing her parents for their cozy simplicity. They regard the grassy valley surrounded by black, volcanic mountains as an oppressive landscape of bitter defeat. Sól absorbs their painful secrets, but not their attitude, realizing that the rugged, breathtaking terrain contains both harsh reality and magical possibility.”

AUGUST 14 (on DVD/VOD): Porcupine Lake (dir. Ingrid Veninger)Montclair Film Festival synopsis: “Thirteen-year-old Bea (Charlotte Salisbury) wants a best friend more than anything else, and when she meets rambunctious Kate (Lucinda Armstrong Hall), the pair form an unexpected bond that will change both of their lives forever. Ingrid Veninger’s Porcupine Lake takes the time to explore the feelings and experiences of young girls with a thoughtful honesty that sets the film apart from most contemporary fiction, creating a story sensitive to the secret world of her characters, set during a fateful summer when adulthood has not yet arrived, but childhood is quickly vanishing.”

AUGUST 15: Cielo (dir. Alison McAlpine)Film Forum synopsis: “Set in Chile’s Atacama Desert, Cielo explores the sublime night sky, employing an elegant, unusual use of time-lapse photography to capture the movements of a breathtaking astronomical tableau. Filmmaker Alison McAlpine’s thoughtful narration and the ambient sounds of the desert are blended with otherworldly music and affecting moments of deep silence. The resulting meditation on the heavens is a mystical paean to the beauty of the sky and an inspiring vision of a universe that we both see and cannot see. The Atacama – with its high-altitude setting (between the Andes and Chilean Coast Mountains), aridity (the driest non-polar place in the world, receiving an average of only .6 inches of rain per year), and near-complete lack of cloud cover and light pollution – is an ideal place to appreciate the firmament. Cielo is a distinctively cinematic reverie on these night skies, as experienced by astronomers at the La Silla, Paranal, and Las Campanas observatories, as well as local farmers, cowboys, and miners.”

AUGUST 17: The Ranger (dir. Jenn Wexler)Screen Anarchy’s SXSW review by J Hurtado: “There is a deep and undeniable connection between punk music and horror films that goes back decades. From the very beginning of the punk music movement in the ’70s, bands and fans used horror imagery to separate themselves from those around them. In my own personal journey of discovery as a budding horror fan, punk music played a pivotal part in connecting the dots between my internal raging anger and its obvious violent expression on film. All of this to say that I’ve always been surprised at how infrequently this seemingly indisputable relationship has been exploited on film.

“Director Jenn Wexler’s debut feature, The Ranger, is the latest the a relatively small oeuvre of punk rock horror films, and it is one that takes the energy and explosive enthusiasm of the music and attempts to give it life on screen. It isn’t entirely successful in putting a new classic on the table for fans to adore, it’s definitely a heaping helping of bloody, obnoxious fun, and sometimes that’s all I’m looking for.

“Punk rocker Chelsea (Chloe Levine) and her snotty punk pals get caught up in a police raid at a show and go on the run to avoid getting picked up with a huge quantity of a new party drug called ‘echo.’ When one of the punks stabs a cop while saving Chelsea from certain doom, the crew decides it’s time to go underground and they head into the woods of upstate New York. Chelsea’s uncle had a cabin in the woods where they can hide, but these woods hold a lot of conflicting memories for her, and soon her past catches up with her in the form of a deranged ranger with an axe to grind. Literally.

“The Ranger (Jeremy Holm, ‘House of Cards,’ ‘Mr. Robot’) wants Chelsea all to himself, and will plow through her friends one-by-one to get to her. There’s a complicated history between the two involving Chelsea’s uncle, played silently by New York indie horror legend Larry Fessenden, and his unfortunate violent demise. She’s not having it, though, so The Ranger goes on a spree, dispatching her friends in predictably violent ways, all to a frenetic punk rock soundtrack.

“In punk terms, The Ranger definitely share the same kind of energy as the early ’80s pre-hardcore music scene. A bit sloppy around the edges, the film at times trades enthusiasm for polish, resulting in a final product that is impossible to take seriously, but at the same time doesn’t ask that of its audience. The film’s characters, apart from Chelsea, are the kind of obnoxious cartoon punks that make normal folks uncomfortable, but the shallow characterizations reinforce the go-for-broke tone and allow the audience to identify more with Chelsea, though I would’ve loved to know her compatriots as more than just a bunch of irritating party kids.

“I’ve stated publically on this site on more than one occasion that 1985 punk horror classic, The Return of the Living Dead, is my favorite film of all time, and while it’s perhaps unfair to compare two films, it’s also inevitable. The Ranger doesn’t reach those heights by any stretch, but it’s a competent, fun, bloody, and energetic addition to the canon of punk horror films that its creators can be proud of. A lot of my issues feel like the follies of an excitable first time director, but then again, they didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the film so I can still give it a solid recommendation for fans of low budget indie horror, and not that hi-falutin’ artsy fartsy stuff. This is a fun throwback with a killer soundtrack and enough solid kills in its 77 minutes (was that on purpose? if so, kudos) to sate spiky haired gorehounds everywhere.”

AUGUST 17 (streaming on Netflix): To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (dir. Susan Johnson)Teen Vogue article by Gabe Bergado: “Who was your first crush? Most people can relate to scribbling someone’s name on their notebook and using a mutual friend to pass along a profession of love. But for Lara Jean Song Covey, revealing she like-likes someone doesn’t go as smoothly as she’d hope.

“Coming soon to Netflix is To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a film based on Jenny Han’s best-selling novel. It follows Lara Jean (Lana Condor) after someone releases a box of letters she’s written to her crushes — without her knowing. And if you thought having the cutie you’ve been eyeing in AP Calculus find out about your true feelings, try having five crushes find out all at the same time. For Lara Jean, there’s ‘Peter with the beautiful eyes, Kenny from camp, Lucas from homecoming, John Ambrose from Model UN, and Josh… the boy next door.’ She teams up with Peter (Noah Centineo) to navigate the aftermath and parse through all the turbulent feelings that the letters cause.

“…’I think that all teens have fantasized about a seemingly unattainable crush at one point in their life,’ Lana tells Teen Vogue about the project. ‘I believe we’ve all been through the doubts and self-consciousness that comes with whether or not we should approach our crush and get to know them. It’s the fear of rejection. I think Lara Jean has all of these universal fears and eventually learns that people will love who she really is if she just is her authentic self.’

“And while To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before‘s main plot revolves around Lara Jean’s letters, her family — and specifically, her two sisters (who are played by Anna Cathcart and The Perfectionists‘s Janel Parrish) — are also essential to the movie. Jenny says that the three girls ‘were truly like sisters on this set.’

“‘Like Lara Jean, I am the middle child of three sisters, which made it very easy for me to relate to how LJ views her family and her world,’ the film’s director Susan Johnson tells Teen Vogue. ‘She’s an optimist with a vivid imagination, but also just a little bit naive. I love how protective she is of her family, and her friends. And, that she puts everything into writing, always making lists.’

“Many will recognize Lana as Jubilee from the 2016 superhero film X-Men: Apocalypse, but now the actor is switching gears — and she couldn’t be more excited. ‘There aren’t that many rom-coms out there starring an Asian lead love interest. So, I was and am over the moon to hopefully begin to pave the way for other ladies (and men) in my position,’ Lana says. ‘It means the world to me.’

“Jenny, whose book was first published in 2014, agrees. The author describes Lana as a ‘ball of energy,’ and adds that her lead actor feels like a major moment for representation. ‘I don’t know if people realize how long it’s been since we last saw a movie starring an Asian American girl,’ she tells Teen Vogue. ‘It’s been 25 years since The Joy Luck Club! That is a really long time to wait to see yourself reflected back at you on screen. My priority is for Asian-American kids to see themselves in stories, to see a face like theirs. They need to know that their stories are universal too, that they too can fall in love in a teen movie.’

“For her part, Lana also hopes the film’s message hits home in a singular way. ‘My hope is that after watching this movie, every single audience member knows they’re deserving of love. And deserving of friendship,’ she says. ‘I hope they realize being yourself is truly the best way to live life.'”

AUGUST 17: A Whale of a Tale (dir. Megumi Sasaki)Busan International Film Festival synopsis by Minah Jeong: “This investigative documentary film shows what is going on in Taiji, a small fishing village in Japan, after 2010’s The Cove, also a documentary that brought international attention to this village. The Cove featured a dolphin trainer who woke up to the fact that a whale is a mammal with feelings and that knows pain, and who went on to become an animal rights activist. The activists and the filmmakers (who won an Academy Award) spread out over the world the name of Taiji, where cruel whale hunting was ongoing. A Whale of a Tale is the sequel to The Cove, but it does not just regard Taiji from the viewpoint of Western activists; it listens to the Taiji villagers as well. Taiji has become a hot spot for anti-whaling activists, often militant, and cameras and binoculars now flock to the village in whaling season. The villagers claim that a whale is a precious resource for the village, once scarce of food, and that they perform a ritual for whales after the traditional hunt. Focusing on a place where provocative remarks are exchanged and the traditional culture conflicts with ethics, the film tries to say that understanding each other and having conversations is the true solution to the conflict. Still, there seems to be a long road to resolution and in the meantime, life is being slaughtered.”

AUGUST 23 (playing at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art): The Rest I Make Up (dir. Michelle Memran)MoMA synopsis: “Maria Irene Fornes is one of America’s greatest playwrights and most influential teachers, but many only know her as the ex-lover of writer and social critic Susan Sontag. The visionary Cuban-American dramatist constructed astonishing worlds onstage and taught countless students how to connect with their imaginations. When she gradually stops writing due to dementia, an unexpected friendship with filmmaker Michelle Memran reignites her spontaneous creative spirit and triggers a decade-long collaboration that picks up where the pen left off.

“The duo travels from New York to Havana, Miami to Seattle, exploring the playwright’s remembered past and their shared present. Theater luminaries such as Edward Albee, Ellen Stewart, Lanford Wilson, and others weigh in on Fornes’s important contributions. What began as an accidental collaboration becomes a story of love, creativity, and connection that persists even in the face of forgetting.”

AUGUST 24 (streaming on Netflix): The After Party (dir. Ian Edelman) (DPs: Damián Acevedo and Dagmar Weaver-Madsen)Netflix synopsis:An aspiring rapper (Kyle Harvey) and his best friend/manager (Harrison Holzer) have one night to bounce back from embarrassment and make their dreams of hip-hop stardom come true.

AUGUST 24: The Bookshop (dir. Isabel Coixet)The Hollywood Reporter review by Jonathan Holland: “If ‘restrained,’ ‘melancholy,’ ‘subtle’ and ‘stereotypically English’ are the qualifiers that spring to mind when you learn that Isabel Coixet’s latest is about a widow setting up a bookstore in a quiet coastal town in the 1950s, then you’re only getting half the story of The Bookshop. Its subversive undercurrent, embodied in fine performances by Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy, is what makes it really interesting.

“Pretty faithful throughout to the Penelope Fitzgerald novel from which it’s sourced, and sustained by a cast which is well capable of suggesting the psychological subtlety of the original, The Bookshop shows that, for the moment at least, the uneven maverick Coixet is back in form. Initial box office in Spain has been positive, and the fact that there’s always a market somewhere for hand-crafted, quintessentially English fare — perhaps even more so in these troubled times — suggest that this one is unlikely just to sit there gathering dust.

“Coixet has long been interested in women who take risks to do the right thing. This time it’s the turn of Florence Green (Emily Mortimer), 16 years a war widow, who fetches up in the seaside town of Hardborough in the county of Suffolk with the aim of setting up a bookshop in a rundown property, the Old House, which she’s bought. Florence’s never-explicitly stated reason for wanting to do so is that she met her husband in a bookshop, an event fleetingly hinted at early on.

“At one of those massively awkward, stilted dinner parties at which the English apparently excel, Florence encounters local bigwig Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson, working for the third time with Coixet), her hair plastered tight against her scalp, smoking evilly at windows, endlessly calculating. This is the kind of film in which the smilingly uttered words ‘why don’t you think it over?’ actually mean ‘if you dare to challenge me, my dear, then I shall quite simply ruin your life.’ Violet wants to use the old house as an arts center; Apparently for no reason other than that she enjoys exercising her power, she will stop at nothing to achieve it, going so far as to pull strings in Parliament to fulfill her aim.

“Local recluse and widow Mr. Brundish (a compellingly quiet and intense Nighy), around whom local gossip comically swirls, is sympathetic to Florence’s cause, sensing that Hardborough needs her. Brundish emerges from years of solitude into a brief, middle-aged flirtation with Florence which teeters elegantly on the edge of being an affair without actually becoming one.

“As romances go, this is so exquisitely restrained that it makes Brief Encounter look like Debbie Does Dallas. Their trembling, murmured first interview is knockout stuff, two fine actors, both playing bereaved lovers, taking all the time they need and playing off one another to suggest an ocean of pain: the sigh emitted by Brundish after it will be echoed by audiences. ‘You make me believe once more in things I’d long forgotten,’ he tells Florence, and he might even be talking about love. They meet only twice, but we wish it could have been more.

“Florence also meets a feisty little girl, Christine (Honor Kneafsey), who helps her out at the shop, as well as the glistening-haired, clear-eyed Milo North — in the latter case, without any noticeable advancement of either character or plot. Though Lance has fun playing a bounder and cad of the first order, the script doesn’t particularly need him.

“Like the novel, The Bookshop teems with ideas. Some are old-hat: we’ve regularly been reminded since Jane Austen, for example, that rural villages can be petty-minded, spiteful places. But both Fitzgerald’s novel and Coixet’s adaptation also have resonances for the 2000s, among them the question of how it is possible, in a world driven by gossip (read ‘fake news’) that books and reading can have become so devalued. ‘Thank you for introducing me to Ray Bradbury,’ Brundish tells Florence, and indeed Fahrenheit 451’s subversive, free spirit (and less convincingly that of Lolita) can be felt throughout, suggesting that a world without books — in this case Hardborough — is a pretty nasty, ego-driven place to be. What a shame that we live there.

“Mortimer follows the novel’s lead in portraying Florence as an intriguing mixture of social insecurity and quiet determination, driven in her pursuit of a dream that should be perfectly achievable but, thanks to moral and cultural Philistinism, is not. As the obstacles mount up, Florence starts to look like an oasis of sanity.

“Classically structured and assembled as befits its subject, the film’s only concession to stylistic flamboyance comes when Brundish is seen reading to camera letters he’s sent to Florence. This may seem clumsy, but in a film which is so much about the power of the written word to stir us, it works very well, and gives Nighy a further opportunity to shine as Brundish, in his splendid isolation.

“In a wonderfully apt touch, the voiceover is delivered by Julie Christie, who starred in Truffaut’s version of Fahrenheit 451. Often drawn directly from Fitzgerald’s novel, it does adds shade and context to some scenes, but is sometimes unnecessary. The same can be said of Alfonso de Vilallonga’s score, which is better during the melancholy sequences, but cliched when it’s striving to be perky. Some nuances are missing: Christine is probably too frightfully well spoken for the daughter of a working-class 1950s woman in an eastern English county, and indeed regional accents are lacking entirely. But visually, the attention to period detail from Marc Pou seems faultless.”

AUGUST 24: Hot to Trot (dir. Gail Freedman)Quad Cinema synopsis: “An art form and dazzling spectacle, ballroom dancing remains constrained by antiquated gender binaries within the mainstream, but the little-known world of same-sex competition is shaking things up—and making them sizzle. This lively and poignant documentary follows four international LGBTQ dancers as they journey to the quadrennial Gay Games. Along the way dancing is revealed to be both a means of overcoming personal hardships—from drug addiction to familial rifts—and a joyous opportunity to merge artistic expression with proud sexual identity.”

AUGUST 24: Maison du Bonheur (dir./DP: Sofia Bohdanowicz)Metrograph synopsis: “For half a century, 77-year-old Juliane Sellam, raconteur, accomplished astrologist, and solemn maintainer of refined rituals, has lived in the same home in Montmartre, Paris. Sofia Bohdanowicz, one of the most distinctive voices in Canadian independent cinema, delves into Sellam’s sanctum to record the older woman’s vast store of tales and household routines, in the process finding herself taking a sort of direction from her subject, even having her astrological chart read. Shooting in 16mm, Bohdanowicz reveals a quiet loveliness in quotidian objects and the dispatch of everyday beauty, creating in the process a cinematic ode to matriarchy.”

AUGUST 24 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 14 (LA): Nelly (dir. Anne Émond) (DP: Josée Deshaies)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis: “A high-class prostitute by choice, Nelly Arcan’s colorful life is recreated in a multi-layered and stylish mix of make-believe and memoir, revealing Nelly’s alter egos: the neurotic writer, the vulnerable lover, the call girl and the star. Nelly shocked the literary world with her elegant phrasing and the lurid details of sex work in her autobiographical first novel, Whore, which became a critically acclaimed bestseller. Despite unprecedented success, Nelly’s remarkable life ended in tragedy.”

AUGUST 24: The Oslo Diaries (dirs. Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan)Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival synopsis by Aisha Jamal: “Once upon a time, there was a moment of hope in the Middle East peace process. In 1992, just as Israeli-Palestinian relations were at an all-time low, the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Israeli government took an unprecedented step: They set up secret negotiations in Oslo, Norway. Dubbed the Oslo process, these meetings were never officially sanctioned and only documented by the negotiators themselves. With remarkable access to their private diaries, this film offers a rare look behind the scenes of the process that resulted in the Oslo Accords, a stunning moment of cooperation between the two sides. Using extensive archival footage, interviews and recreations, the film weaves a fascinating political tale with important lessons. Given the contemporary tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the film offers a much-needed narrative about the possibility for fair negotiations.”

AUGUST 31 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 7 (LA): Inventing Tomorrow (dir. Laura Nix) (DP: Martina Radwan)Variety’s Sundance Film Festival review by Nick Schager: “Jeffrey Blitz’s 2002 spelling-bee documentary Spellbound continues to cast a long shadow over contemporary nonfiction cinema, with Laura Nix’s Inventing Tomorrow the latest doc to hew to that formal template. Nix’s film follows a collection of young kids as they prepare for, and then compete at, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), dubbed by one speaker as ‘The science fair of science fairs.’ Inventing Tomorrow won’t win points for originality, but this snapshot of adolescent ingenuity and innovation, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, nonetheless proves equally entertaining and inspiring.

“The documentary is structured in two parts, the first focusing on the backstories and creative undertakings of its subjects as they face polluted home environments. In Bangalore, India, 16-year-old Sahithi takes samples of the area’s lakes, which are so contaminated that they’re covered in mountains of noxious foam, which often blows into the streets and onto unsuspecting pedestrians. Teenagers Jesus, Jose and Fernando, meanwhile, are concerned with the air pollution plaguing their hometown of Monterrey, Mexico. The most urgent issue confronted by Bangka, Indonesia, student Nuha is the waste produced by the region’s tin mining operations, which are poisoning the ocean. And in Hilo, Hawaii, Jared is fixated on investigating arsenic levels in his community’s soil, exacerbated by two 20th-century tsunamis.

“The kids’ solutions to these problems are clever, be it a photocatalytic paint devised by Jesus, Jose and Fernando that can turn smog into nontoxic elements, or the homemade app designed by Sahithi to analyze pollutants. Nix’s portraits of these intrepid youngsters are concise and compelling, if skimpy; aside from a few brief interactions with peers and parents that relay their economic backgrounds and particular dilemmas, there’s no larger sense of who they are and where they come from. Given the director’s storytelling format, this shortcoming is predictable, but one still clamors for more background on how these kids became enamored with their fields of study, realized that they’d struck upon a topic of interest, and first figured out how to tackle it.

“Once Inventing Tomorrow makes its way to Los Angeles and the enormous, multicultural ISEF, it manages to compensate for its early tenuousness by depicting the vital, and heartening, dialogue engendered by the event — an intercultural exchange of ideas and experiences that broadens teens’ horizons, allows them to share ideas with those who are different from themselves and to develop and spread social and scientific consciousness. United by their fondness for intellectual challenges, they exemplify the limitless possibilities created when people use their imagination for altruistic problem-solving and collaborate with others for the greater good.

“As such, though Inventing Tomorrow builds toward judgment day — when the kids battle nerves and language-barriers to give presentations to evaluators — the question of who will win and who will lose becomes something of an afterthought. There’s no heartbreak in Nix’s film, only mild disappointment that’s quickly overshadowed by the belief that academic ambition is something that benefits not just individuals but the world around them. No matter the formulaic way that message is communicated, it can’t help but leave the viewer feeling hopeful about the future.”

AUGUST 31: Let the Corpses Tan (dirs. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani)Quad Cinema synopsis: “A criminal gang fresh from an armored car heist holes up in an abandoned Mediterranean clifftop village, where they encounter enigmatic artist Elina Löwensohn and alcoholic writer Marc Barbé. Soon all are drawn into a death dance of double and triple crosses, as the standoff dissolves into hallucinatory, semi-mystical delirium. Cattet and Forzani (Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears) transform a 1971 pulp novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette into a fusion of the ’70s Euro crime thriller and Spaghetti Western in an immaculate stylistic pastiche and the sincerest form of genre fetishism.”

AUGUST 31: Pick of the Litter (dirs. Don Hardy Jr. and Dana Nachman) (DPs: Don Hardy Jr., Kurt Kuenne, Steve Pitre, Jacob Stein and Naomi Ture)Boulder International Film Festival synopsis:Pick of the Litter is a wonderful reminder of the extraordinary relationships we have with our dogs. The film follows a litter of puppies from the moment they’re born and begin their quest to become guide dogs for the blind. Cameras follow these pups through an intense two-year odyssey as they train to become dogs whose ultimate responsibility is to protect their blind partners from harm. Along the way, these remarkable animals rely on a community of dedicated individuals who train them to do amazing, life-changing things in the service of their human. The stakes are high, and not every dog can make the cut: Only the best of the best, the pick of the litter.”